Negros Creates A Splash

If there’s anything Negrenses know, it’s how to put their best foot forward even if it means, literally and figuratively, plunging into new waters.

Artistic swimmers perform the backstroke start, one of the most important moments in competitive swimming as it’s when the entire body is at its most propulsive.

First introduced to Negros Occidental in 2018, artistic swimming, formerly known as synchronized swimming, is one of the five disciplines of aquatic sports. It is governed internationally by the Fédération Internationale de Natation (FINA), which decided to officially change the sport’s name in 2017 to link it more closely to artistic gymnastics, since both include choreography set to music.

From the world stage to the pools of Bacolod City, the sport was introduced to Negrenses through a three-day Artistic Swimming Clinic participated in by members of the Negros Occidental Golf and Country Club (NOGCC) Swim Club. The workshop was headed by Reina Suarez, Philippine Team Head Coach for Artistic Swimming, who flew in from Manila to conduct lectures in the morning and practical applications in the afternoon. On the third and final day, the swimmers performed a showcase as a culminating activity. Friends and families who were in attendance could attest to the elegance and artistry of the sport that beautifully combines elements of dance, gymnastics, and competitive swimming into a routine of complex and dynamic figures.

Coach Giella Sanchez, team manager of the Negros Occidental Golf and Country Club (NOGCC) Swim Team- Corals, oversees stretching before training begins.

Following that three-day workshop, two members of the NOGCC Swim Club made the decision, right there and then, to shift from competitive swimming to artistic swimming. Five months after dedicating themselves to training, Psalmantha Gwyn Caballero Zaldarriaga and Carmina Sanchez Tan were able to represent the Philippines and compete in their first artistic swimming meet in Singapore. Without knowledge of it at the time, this was just the promising start of the club’s artistic swimming division, the NOGCC Swim Team- Corals.

According to Coach Giella Sanchez, Team Manager of the NOGCC Swim Team- Corals, competitions are very significant to the growth of athletes. “For artistic swimming, it has been harder to continuously expose swimmers to meets, as there is an absence of local and national ones since the sport is quite tiny in the Philippines,” she shared. “When we started with our program back in 2018, we had to make the parents understand that we need to invest yearly in sending our artistic swimmers to at least one international meet, to get exposure and to grow.”

In their desire to progress as a team, even in the midst of a pandemic and some travel restrictions, they were able to discover Coach Leilani Torres, who is now a mentor to them. Torres, who is now based in Chile, is an artistic swimmer who represented Puerto Rico in the 2004 Athens Olympics. She offered her services virtually, with her passion to help as many swimmers, coaches, and clubs to grow. This further led the NOGCC Swim Team- Corals to discover several virtual meets. In 2021, they were able to join five international virtual competitions, namely, the Sportex Virtual Artistic Swimming Championships - Dubai, Union Americana de Natacion 2021 Junior and Youth International Open, Kingfisher Artistic Swimming Invitational - South Africa, NZ Open - New Zealand Artistic Swimming Nationals, and South African National Age Group Championships.

In terms of physical competitions, Carmina Sanchez Tan represented the country as part of the Junior National Team for Artistic Swimming at the 2019 Asian Age Group Championships held in Bengaluru, India.

Fourteen-year-old Carmina Sanchez Tan of Bacolod City is a proud member of the Philippine National Team for Artistic Swimming.

Just this year, 2022, Tan was also announced a member of the Philippine National Team for Artistic Swimming. Belonging to the age 13-15 bracket, she traveled with her family to Irvine, California, to compete in the Championships & 12U Invitational hosted by USA Artistic Swimming. Commenting on this milestone, Coach Giella said, “The hard work and perseverance that Carmina poured out in all her preparations were indescribable. We sometimes forget that she is only 14 years old because of the way she gives her all. She took this challenge with her whole heart.”

At present, the Negros Occidental Golf and Country Club (NOGCC) Swim Team- Corals is headed by Coach Giella Sanchez (standing) with swimmers (L-R) Eliza Risel Villarosa, Antonia Lucia Raffaele, Lorenzo Mark Raffaele, Zoe Lim, Alyssa Miyuki Bantug, and Carmina Sanchez Tan. Lorenzo is the lone male swimmer of the team, able to compete in a separate category and mixed duet.

At present, the NOGCC Swim Team- Corals has six active members. They are Lorenzo Mark Raffaele, Zoe Lim, Antonia Lucia Raffaele, Alyssa Miyuki Bantug, Carmina Sanchez Tan, and Eliza Risel Villarosa. Lorenzo is the lone male athlete of the team, breaking stereotypes that men can neither be flexible nor graceful, while also conveying the beauty of the masculine elements in the sport. In competition, Lorenzo is allowed to enter the men’s solo category and the mixed duet with women.

As the aesthetics and grace of artistic swimming oftentimes disguise its significant physical demands, the members of the NOGCC Swim Team- Corals train thrice a week for artistic swimming, with each session lasting up to two hours. Most members also train for competitive swimming at least twice a week, which is an additional hour-and-a-half hours per session.

To develop their strength and conditioning, the athletes engage in dry land activities and exercises that are not any less rigorous than their training in the water. Prior to the lockdowns, members of the team were enrolled in a gym to increase their endurance and strength, all of which are important for becoming better swimmers. Stretching and flexibility training is also a year-round essential as the sport requires optimal range of motion.

Furthermore, the demands associated with the execution of gymnastics movements in a water environment pose unique training challenges for the artistic swimmer. To build for a competitive season, Carmina even goes the extra mile and enrolls herself in three different dance classes: modern ballet, classical, and jazz.

Carmina Sanchez Tan brings her formal dance training poolside with the ballet pose, Italian Pas de Chat.

While artistic swimming is indeed a strenuous and skillful sport, its athletes encourage individuals to try it. Speaking to Negros Season of Culture, Carmina Sanchez Tan said, “Many people think that only good competitive swimmers can do it, but truly anyone can as long as they have flexibility and endurance. Many of the best artistic swimmers were not actually competitive swimmers. Before, they were either dancers or figure skaters.”

Currently, the NOGCC Swim Team- Corals is the only artistic swimming club actively training in the Philippines. With its growing number of swimmers, the team aims to enter competitions not only through individual events, but also through duets and team events. They are also looking at possibilities to train with other artistic swimming teams internationally.

Looking to the future, the swimmers are hopeful that through their hard work, they will get to represent the Philippines at the 2025 Southeast Asian (SEA) Games in Thailand.

To those interested in and would like to deep-dive into the sport, you may contact Coach Giella Garcia Sanchez through her Facebook and Messenger account. The team’s main swimming venue for training is at We Swim Aquatic School, #24, 17th Lacson Street.

Text By: Chaela Mirano
Photos and Video By: Unit A Creatives

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