The synchronized swimming competition gets underway this week at the Olympics, and for those who have only a superficial familiarity with the sport, two stories might provide a surprising revelation. "Synchronized Swimming Has a Concussion Problem," reads the headline in the New York Times. While a headline from the AP suggests the sport known as "artistic swimming" might well be the toughest one at the Games. The reason? It requires "the strength and power of weightlifters, the speed and lung capacity of distance swimmers, the flexibility and skill of gymnasts, and the ability to perform in perfect sync with the music and each other," writes Kristen Gelineau of the AP. It's that "in perfect sync" part that causes many of the injuries, given that several athletes are moving in such close proximity to each other.
About 25% of such athletes have reported a concussion, writes Gillian R. Brassil in the Times. She's a former competitor who researched the problem while a student at Stanford, and who suffered multiple concussions in the pool herself, the first at age 16. In fact, the percentage might be closer to 40% given the number of swimmers who think, but aren't certain, they suffered concussions. The sport has begun acknowledging the problem in recent years, writes Brassil. One potential remedy is a swim cap that offers better protection from head injuries, all too common from a stray arm or knee, or when a swimmer is thrown into the air during a lift that doesn't end well. Adam Andrasko, CEO of USA Artistic Swimming, tells the AP: "It's very, very difficult even for high-level athletes to comprehend what it takes to be an artistic swimmer." (Read more concussions stories.)