Swimming Pretty: The Untold Story of Women in Water

Liveright: Norton. Jun. 2024. 368p. ISBN 9781324093046. $28.99. SPORTS
Expert synchronized swimmer Valosik, who also teaches writing at Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service, admirably unravels a centuries-spanning narrative about synchronized swimming’s rise from music-hall water tanks to the Olympics. Though early practitioners during the Renaissance and Enlightenment eras were men, women later redefined synchronized swimming with demonstrations of grace and strength in the water. Valosik’s narrative is rich with the stories of swim stars such as Annette Kellerman, who defied Victorian norms with her aquatic prowess, and Esther Williams, whose “aquamusicals” dazzled Hollywood. Beyond entertainment, women swimmers influenced wide-ranging societal changes in the United States, like the design of more sensible swimwear and the creation of lifesaving programs and formalized swimming education, which reduced drowning rates and inspired generations of women athletes. Synchronized swimming’s journey, from performing in aquariums to reaching Olympic glory, is a testament to these swimmers’ resilience and the transformative power of sports.
VERDICT A timely tribute to the glamour and athleticism of the pioneering women of synchronized swimming and their efforts to legitimize it as a sport. For readers who enjoy sports history and popular culture and for fans of Jordan Whitney-Wei’s Katharine Whitney Curtis: Mother of Synchronized Swimming.
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