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Male artistic swimmers redefine what ‘masculinity’ means

Music. Breathe. Let the synchronicity begin.

Artistic swimmers have just two minutes to show off their strength, flexibility and aerobic endurance — all while smiling and trying not to wipe off their heavy, waterproof make-up. “If you think that that is easy, we are doing our job fine,” 25-year-old Italian artistic swimmer Giorgio Minisini tells CNN Sport. “If you see that we are struggling, that we are making difficult things, maybe we are missing something.” Dive deeper into the sport, however, and it turns out that aerobic capacity and striving for synchronization are the least of male artistic swimmers’ problems, according to Minisini. Men took part in the sport at its creation, but until recently, they have always been banned from elite competition.

“I’m happy to say that these inequalities are not men-derived. It’s one time that us — men — are discriminated [against],” Minisini admits. “But if there are no discriminations, it’s better.” Historically, men haven’t been considered the ideal fit for this sport. Although they’re usually stronger than women, they are many times physically heavier and often less flexible, so it is harder for them to float.

Yet some male artistic swimmers have begun to break the stereotypes that surround them, while also conveying the beauty of masculine elements in the sport. “We are used to seeing a sport with a lot of grace, a lot of elegance and there is also a big choreographic component,” says 23-year-old Italian artistic swimmer Nicolò Ogliari. “It’s a dance in the water. Maybe, we are more used to seeing a woman that does these things. But like in classic dance, also in artistic swimming, there are men.” Minisini explains that “being a man doesn’t mean that you have to be a certain kind of man. Being a woman doesn’t mean that you should be a certain kind of woman. You can be whatever you want.

“I think that these differences make the beauty [of life]. We should encourage this difference.” Minisini became the first Italian male artistic swimmer to win a solo title at the Winter National Championships in 2021, where he beat 13 female artistic swimmers to take gold. “I always knew that I wanted to swim differently from women and to give artistic swimming something new,” he says, adding that his medal at the Winter National Championships has been one of the most important of his career.