Swimmer Trying to Make Olympic History Is Left Off the U.S. Team


Bill May, the 45-year-old artistic swimmer who was vying for a chance to be the first man to compete in the sport at the Olympics this summer, did not make the U.S. team’s final roster, the team announced on Saturday.

Of the 12 people on the U.S. artistic swimming team, only eight, plus an alternate, were chosen to travel to the Paris Games in July. Mr. May, the only man on the team — who became eligible for the Olympics when a rule change opened the competition to men for the first time — was not among them.

Mr. May, who also works as the head coach of Santa Clara Artistic Swimming, one of the premier clubs in the country, did not immediately respond to a request for a comment on the decision. He said in a recent interview with The New York Times that it would be “almost like a slap in the face” if men were not represented at the Paris Games.

Adam Andrasko, chief executive of USA Artistic Swimming, called Mr. May “an inspiration.”

But, Mr. Andrasko said, the team had to send the strongest squad possible to Paris. One of the complicating factors is that all eight athletes have to swim all three routines — technical, free and acrobatic — and they can’t swap in and out depending on their individual strengths.

“Unfortunately, the rules of artistic swimming only allow for eight athletes to swim all three routines,” Mr. Andrasko said in a statement. ”We will continue to celebrate Bill and support male participation across the sport while also celebrating the story of these eight incredible women.”

Mr. May fell in love with artistic swimming, then called synchronized swimming, as a 10-year-old boy in Syracuse, N.Y., and went on to became a towering figure in the sport as well as a passionate advocate for the inclusion of men. Though he has competed in (and won) many international competitions as part of duets with female athletes, it has been two decades since he competed as part of a larger team.

The entire U.S. squad — May and the 11 women on the team — qualified for the Olympics in February, the first time the team had done so in 16 years. In competitions since then, the head coach, Andrea Fuentes, had been trying out different configurations of athletes to help determine which eight would go to Paris.

The sport has become more technically difficult, and the judging stricter, since Mr. May began his career. Age worked against him, too: At 45, he is 28 years older than the youngest person on the team, 17-year-old Audrey Kwon — who did make the final cut.

Artistic swimming — a hard-to-describe mélange of ballet, gymnastics, swimming and Esther Williams aquatic spectacle — became an Olympic sport in 1984. Men have been allowed to compete in other international competitions since 2015, but they had never before been allowed in the Olympics.

While a new generation of men is rising through the ranks in the United States and abroad, Mr. May appeared to be the only male athlete from any country who had a shot at an Olympic team this summer. His presence, he believed, would have been a sign that men had finally been accepted in the sport.

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