Although artistic swimming aims to grow with the inclusion of men, only a handful of countries counted male athletes among their eight-person squads at international events in 2023 and 2024.

In December 2022, swimming's governing body World Aquatics said men would be allowed to compete in the sport for the first time in Olympic history in Paris.

The new rules permit up to two men to be part of each eight-person team at the Olympics. Allowing male athletes to compete is expected to pave the way for more dynamic performances.

Elementary school children take an artistic swimming lesson at Chiba International General Swimming Center in Narashino, Chiba Prefecture, on April 6, 2024. (Kyodo)

Japan, however, is likely to be among the nations that will not include a male artistic swimmer in its team competing in the French capital, though efforts are underway to increase male participation.

On April 6 in Chiba Prefecture, near Tokyo, four elementary school boys took part in an artistic swimming clinic hosted by the Japan Swimming Federation.

"To lift a person was difficult, but I enjoyed it," Haru Yoshikawa, who is in the fifth year of elementary school, said after his first experience of artistic swimming. "I want to do this again if I have a chance."

Atsushi Abe, who claimed two mixed duet bronze medals at the 2019 world championships, was the clinic's instructor, teaching the boys the basics such as treading water along to music.

Atsushi Abe (far L) gives an artistic swimming lesson to elementary school children at Chiba International General Swimming Center in Narashino, Chiba Prefecture, on April 6, 2024. (Kyodo)

"Boys usually don't gather for artistic swimming, so it was good," Hikaru Mochizuki, also in the fifth year, said.

Asked if he wanted to compete at a future Olympics, he said, "I think I should do that."

In fiscal 2023, only around 20 men were registered with the Japan Swimming Federation as artistic swimmers.

The number has shown a gradual increase, but many clubs have just one male artistic swimmer, showing the difficult task for organizers of the previously female-only sport.

"If you want to be an artistic swimming team member, you need to have the same kind of training as girls, starting from an early age," Abe said. "I want to cherish opportunities like this."

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

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