After a two-year hiatus, McGill’s Artistic Swimming Invitational made its long-awaited comeback on Jan. 21. Following back-to-back wins in the 2019 and 2020 editions of the invitational, expectations for the Martlets were higher than ever.
Events are split into competitor levels ranging from novice (no competition experience at the national or provincial level after the age of 12), competitive (any swimmer who is registered with Canadian University Artistic Swimming League (CUASL)), and experienced (athletes that competed nationally or internationally before joining CUASL, or competed provincially after the age of 12). This year, McGill competed in every event, except for the novice duo, presenting two solos, two teams, and a duo in the experienced category, along with a solo and team in the novice category.
In attendance were five Ontarian universities, as well as four institutions from Quebec as part of the CUASL.
Ten minutes before the start of the competition, the Memorial Gymnasium saw athletes finalizing their preparations, with some reviewing choreographies for the last time, while others touched up their makeup by the side of the pool. The invitational opened with the novice duet events, followed by the experienced duets and trio, where Abbie Carnahan and Catherine McGee presented a graceful choreography to sombre, lyrical music.
From intense lyrical melodies to upbeat pop songs, from Dua Lipa to Flo Rida and Pitbull, competing teams offered up a wide range of choreographies. However, they all had the same goal in mind: Showcasing their artistry and technical skills to the judges. The requirements between the various events differ slightly across levels and increase in difficulty for the experienced events.
When the solos came, McGill’s novice soloist Diana Paparelli performed to Madonna’s “Isla Bonita,” delivering a theatrical and technical performance that invigorated those in the stands. Her routine placed her at the top of the soloists and ultimately earned her first place in the event.
McGill experienced soloist, Clara Thomas, performed a stunning technical choreography and finished in third place on the podium.
The stands never emptied as family, friends, and curious bystanders rotated in over the course of the afternoon.
“The energy and cheering was really nice,” first-year swimmer Olivia McLaughlin told The McGill Tribune. “It was definitely very fun to have a home meet for a first competition, it’s a little ounce of security we had, […] you usually don’t have that luxury.”
The Martlets did not only elicit support from their own stands, but also from the other teams, as those on the poolside yelled and cheered them on.
“It’s very much a team effort,” McLaughlin told the Tribune. “There’s a certain structure that you kind of follow [….] It makes for a routine that you’re super proud to show off, because you all have your little bits and pieces in there.”
This year’s artistic swimming team has a young core, with an overwhelming majority of first-years and only a few returning athletes.
“Most of us never swam together before [….] it can take a while to develop the team dynamic necessary for a good performance, ” explained fourth-year science student April Ozere. “So in this way, we are at a disadvantage to other teams who may have been swimming together for a few years. However, our team dynamics are improving with every practice and I’m confident we will be able to deliver a great performance at Nationals.”
“We were pretty happy with how we swam, considering the obstacles we had before coming to the competition,” McLaughlin added.
The schedule and competition suits were given to them just days before the event, while their McGill warm-up suits arrived the day of the competition. Since artistic swimming receives little to no funding from McGill, both of their suits were paid for by the athletes themselves, with the help of a fundraiser they organized this past fall.
The lack of funding from McGill has proven to be a barrier for the team. In 2020, the Martlets had to pay out of pocket for all travel expenses to get to British Columbia to compete in Nationals.
The McGill artistic swimming team will be hosting a “send-off” water show before Nationals at the end of the semester, after facing CUASL rivals in Ontario for the Eastern Divisionals on March 5-6.