Photo Credit: Liz Corman Photography
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Going Virtual to Create A New Event Called Virtual Artistic Swimming
By Baylee Robinson, Events & Membership Director, USA Artistic Swimming
Looking back at 2020 and what we all went through is overwhelming, but it also shows how resilient the sport industry can be. Last year was full of planning, cancelling, planning again, moving, postponing and transitioning into a virtual world. To say 2020 was stressful and exhausting is an understatement of the year, it was so much more. It was devastating to watch but looking back now I can see how successful we all really were.
USA Artistic Swimming (USAAS) went through a lot of same struggles but as a unique sport we were able to create a unique competition opportunity, Virtual Artistic Swimming. We never thought COVID-19 would last as long as it did and we wanted to provide our athletes a light at the end of a dark tunnel. Our athletes had now gone over a year without an in-person event and the motivation to keep training without a goal is mentally and physically discouraging. With a little creativity and teamwork USAAS was able to host its first Virtual Artistic Swimming Competition.
Artistic swimming is a unique sport and because athletes are judged with no head-to-head competition, virtual events were a realistic opportunity. The initial struggle was that a virtual event didn’t have a rule book and there was no one to turn to, so we created the rule book.
We created rules for how teams should record their routines, how music should be imported and how routines needed to be submitted. We created a platform that allowed for fair scoring that provided judges with a clear view of the routine, with high quality and from the comfort of their own home. And then, we had to put it all together to stream the “live” event for teams to enjoy. A month later we hit play on our first USAAS Virtual Year End Competition. Four hundred athletes from across the United States were able to compete again, were able to swim against their peers and got to watch artistic swimming live.
But we didn’t stop there. After all the success we had hosting our competition, we said to ourselves why stop. Let’s host the FINA Artistic Swimming World Series, virtually. Let’s bring athletes and judges from across the world together for a chance to compete for their country on the virtual stage.
Bringing virtual to the world stage brought many more challenges to the event. We needed to create a better scoring platform that can be easily understood for all languages. We had to create a competition format that simulated the pressure of an in-person event but could be recorded from their home pool. We then had to create a production worthy enough to be streamed and desired to be watched, virtually.
USAAS could not have done this alone and with the support of its member clubs, ISS and FINA we were able to successfully host the first FINA Artistic Swimming World Series, USA, Virtual event. Twelve countries from around the world were able to compete in solo, duet, mixed duet, team, free combination and highlight events.
As rewarding as these events were to host, they did not come without stress and failures. As an events director you plan for your events and may spend a week or so hosting them. Virtual events are hosted for a month or more and there is a lot of screen time. We were 100% reliant on the technology that we created to make virtual work and watching it fail day after day was upsetting.
Additional items needed to be taking into consideration when hosting virtual compared to in person and these include:
- Language barriers
- Multiple time zones for meeting schedules
- Training your staff to use virtual software
- Teams need to secure pool time (in a pandemic) to record their routines
- Virtual judging
- Creating a video production which takes more time than we ever imagined.
With a little bit of luck and a lot of teamwork, we did it.
Photo Credit: Liz Corman Photography & Rokop Photography