For the first time ever, women are set to comprise half of the athletes in Olympic competition next year in Paris, where the Summer Games will also mark another milestone for gender inclusivity.

Men will make their Olympic artistic swimming debut in the French capital, amid hopes they can help invigorate the sport and attract new participants.

"I got excited when I heard about it," 18-year-old Japanese male artistic swimmer Yotaro Sato said about the Olympic debut for men. "It's a dream stage for athletes."

Yotaro Sato (2nd from R in top row) poses with other members of his national artistic swimming team in Saga, southwestern Japan, on Feb. 3, 2023. (Kyodo)

Sato earned two silver medals in mixed duet events with his older sister Tomoka at last year's world swimming championships in Budapest.

Governing body World Aquatics last December said men will be allowed to compete in Olympic artistic swimming from the 2024 Games.

Only women have competed since the sport, formerly known as synchronized swimming, was added to the Olympic program in 1984 in Los Angeles. In 2015, the world swimming championships introduced mixed duet.

The new rules will permit up to two men in each eight-person team at the Olympics.

At the recently concluded World Cup meet in Canada's Markham, Spain had two men in the acrobatic event.

Japan is now considering having Sato compete at this July's world championships in Fukuoka. He has already begun to practice with the country's top women.

An inspired Sato said, "They get their legs high and do it smoothly."

In 2001, a Japanese movie called Water Boys, about high school boys taking up artistic swimming, drew nationwide attention.

But the number of registered male artistic swimmers still remains low at about 20, according to the Japan Swimming Federation.

Sato remembers there was no changing room for men at domestic artistic swimming competitions. Noticing a lot of puzzled looks, he often wondered whether to continue.

Yotaro Sato (C front) performs in the free combination artistic swimming event at the national championships in Tokyo in April 2017. (Kyodo)

"Men will do well. I hope to see a rise in artistic swimmers after they watch Yotaro's performance in Fukuoka," Japan artistic swimming head coach Takako Nakajima said.

Multiple Olympic medal-winning coach Masayo Imura said her Osaka Prefecture-based club has an elementary school boy.

"He says he'll compete at an Olympics. That's a good thing," Imura said with a smile. "Men broaden the world of artistic swimming. I don't know how we can compare (with women-only artistic swimming), but it's a move with the times."

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