Meet Ayrton Sweeney, South Africa’s first male synchronized swimmer and the first man to represent South Africa in synchronized swimming at the Fina World Championships that was held last month, June 2022 in Budapest, Hungary.
Sweeney, 29, is no stranger to water sports and has represented South Africa in swimming, in both the world championships and the Commonwealth games.
New to synchronized swimming, Sweeney said that he was looking for a new challenge to take on and found that synchronized swimming pushed him out of his comfort zone.
“I’m always up for a challenge and being a professional South African swimmer, the competitive edge is always alive, synchro posed a new challenge for me to push myself out of my comfort zone. Being out of my comfort zone is the best place to be and being the first African male to compete in synchro really appealed to me as well. Making history and changing the game is all I want to do.”
Sweeney added: “It was pretty difficult and still is. Swimming was about getting there and back as quickly as possible. Synchro has so many elements to it regarding technique and synchronicity with a partner. That is one of the most difficult parts for me.”
View this post on Instagram
Sweeney left his family, friends and teammates in total disbelief at his switch from swimming to a sport that has been reserved for women since its inception in the late 1800s. “They were shocked, to be honest, and most didn’t believe me. My swimming teammates were in disbelief and still are but once they realised it was for real, they were stoked for me and supported me all the way.”
Sweeney feels that synchronized swimmers and the sport are underestimated.
“People don’t realise how strong you have to be. It’s hardcore. People think it’s a soft sport and that is not the case. You have to be tougher than tough and I have experienced that first-hand.
“Trust me, if you want a challenge, try dancing upside down in the water. I’ve seen a lot of people dance at clubs and it’s not pretty, so I can’t imagine they would find it easy under synchro conditions. I’m not a dancer so I think I’m putting up a good effort,” he adds.
Laura Strugnel, Sweeney’s synchronized swimming partner has commended Sweeney for his courage in doing something not many could do.
Strugnel said: “Working with Ayrton has been so much fun, challenging at times as male and female athletes don’t think the same, we don’t have the same bodies and techniques that usually work for female athletes don’t work for males.”
Sweeney said that it was a fun adjustment but tricky at times and insanely difficult to remember to constantly be pointing his toes.
The sport of synchronised swimming, now known as artistic swimming has been around since the late 1800s and was reserved for women swimmers only up until 2015 when the Fina World Championships allowed male participants to be included. Synchronised swimming at the Olympics is still exclusively a women’s sport.