MONTREAL - Canada's synchronized swimming team didn't have to think long about a theme that represents their country for one of the top acts at the upcoming FINA World Trophy competition - hockey.
And so they split into two six-player groups at a news conference at Molson-Coors brewery to promote the event on Thursday - six wearing Montreal Canadiens jerseys and six in those of the former arch-rival Quebec Nordiques. And former Canadien Rejean Houle turned up to drop the puck in a ceremonial faceoff.
"It was a no-brainer, Canada is all about hockey," said Sylvie Frechette, the 1992 Olympic gold medallist who is honorary president of the Nov. 27-29 competition at the Olympic pool in Montreal. "First, we love it, and when you look at the legacy of hockey in Canada, there's much to be inspired from, especially now that we're back on the podium and on the way up again."
Hockey will be used in the thematic duet competition, where Marie-Pier Boudreau-Gagnon of Riviere-du-loup, Que., and Chloe Isaac of Brossard, Que., will swim a routine that uses plastic sticks, a puck, a whistle and other gear.
"We want to show the rivalry between the Canadiens and Nordiques because that was really big in Quebec and the competition is here," said Boudreau-Gagnon, a bronze medallist in the solo event at this year's FINA world championships in Rome.
The top 10 synchro countries in the world will be there, including Russia, led by solo world champion Natalia Ishchenko, the United States, Britain, Brazil, China, Egypt, Spain, Italy and Japan.
The World Trophy differs from regular synchro events in that 80 per cent of the judges' marks go to artistic expression and only 20 per cent for the technical side.
Also props, or what the swimmers call accessories, are allowed in two of the five events.
The highlight is the acrobatic team routine, while the team combination event, for which Canada also won bronze in Rome, has 12 swimmers in a frenzied routine that looks like modern dance in water.
"It's funky and original,"' said Eve Lamoureux of Montreal. "The artistic counts for more than the technical, so we approach it more as a show.
"It's more fun and we're more loose."
Canada was a world power in synchronized swimming in the 1980s and early 1990s, when Carolyn Waldo and Frechette ruled the pool, but the rest of the world caught up.
"We went from No. 1 to No. 6 from 1992 to 2004," said Frechette. "For a lot of people it was very sad.
"Not that it was a disaster being No. 6 in the world, but it was not where Canada belonged. It took some people from Synchro Canada to put their pants on and make some hard decisions."
It looks to be working in a sport that keeps getting more athletic and complex.
"We've never seen synchro swimmers is such good shape,"' she added. "They're strong, their cardio and endurance is amazing and they're happy. They love training. They know its going to hurt but it's part of being the best in the world. Once you have that, there's no way but up and that's what we're seeing now."
Previous World Trophy events were held in Madrid, Moscow and Rio de Janeiro.