Lawrence residents can take in a burgeoning sport when synchronized swimming comes to the Lawrence Indoor Aquatic Center for the first time.
Part of the 2007 North Zone Championships, the top-level swimming competition will showcase more than 250 swimmers, coaches and certified judges from 18 states. The event runs today through Sunday.
All events are free to the public. Visitors can view the swimming from the observation balcony and learn about the sport, which remains somewhat nebulous to the population at large.
"Synchronized swimming is pretty mysterious to most people," said Ilene McKaig, meet manager for the 2007 North Zone Championships. "I encourage people if they come to ask plenty of questions, and we'll find the answers."
Although each day includes additional warm-up and practice sessions, today's events last approximately from 1 to 8 p.m., 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Friday and 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday. The finals will take place 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Sunday.
"That's when you're going to see the best swimming," McKaig said.
The North Zone encompasses an area from as far north as Michigan and as far west as Colorado and has four major meets this year.
The Zone rotates the location of the competitions. Lawrence became an optimal choice because the Kansas City Sea Sprites serve as the host team, and Kansas City does not have a pool capable of filling the needs and seating capacity of a national synchronized swimming meet.
"I walked into the Indoor Aquatic Center and fell in love with it," McKaig said. "It's an awesome facility."
The competitors range from ages 6 to 20. If those 15-and-under rack up high scores on the 100-point scale, they can qualify for the U.S. Junior Nationals in Irvine, Calif., later this month and the U.S. Open in July in Honolulu. The older girls can qualify for April's U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis.
The swimmers will compete in solos, duets, trios and as a team. Solos last three minutes, duets and trios last 3 1/2 minutes and the team competition lasts four minutes.
This week's meet features a relatively new event called the combo. Five minutes in duration, the event brings together solos, duet, trios and team competitions under a common musical theme.
"It's kind of an odd event," McKaig said.
Marilyn Deister has coached the Sea Sprites since founding the team in 1951. The Sea Sprites placed in the finals of the 2006 U.S. Open, but face stiff competition this week particularly from Cincinnati and Denver-based squads.
"There's a lot of really good swimmers," McKaig said.