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Watch: A crew of Swedish men prove it’s impossible to synchronized-swim while drunk

A little out of synch.
By Gwynn Guilford
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

After a brutally dark winter, Swedes like to celebrate their near-endless summer days with a dip in the country’s many lakes—often accompanied by another cultural fave: alcohol. It can be a grim combo. Three out of five deaths occur after drinking, according to the Swedish Lifesaving Society (pdf, p.2). Last year, 137 Swedes drowned, more than those killed in traffic accidents.

The most at-risk demographic? Middle-aged men.

Not coincidentally, these are the Swedes who tend to be the most bullish about boozing while bathing, according to insurance company Trygg-Hansa.

The insurer came up with a novel way of showing the effects of heavy drinking on swimmers’ judgment, coordination, and physical abilities. Behold the three-time world champion Stockholm men’s synchronized swimming team, before and after hitting the bottle:

Normally these titans of synchro can effortlessly turn 10-dude lattices into crisp rhombi, as you can see in the opening moments of the clip. Things get a good bit blobbier after they guzzled their way to a 0.84 blood-alcohol concentration (or 0.084 BAC in North American terms).

This is one of those “don’t try this at home” things. Trygg-Hansa had a team of life guards and a snorkel-wearing rescue diver on hand to save anyone who got too, er, out of synch. In addition, one team member wasn’t allowed to participate because he exceeded the breathalyzer limit, says Eriksson. Another retrospectively asked that his face be blurred out because he’d gotten too drunk.

While it sort of looks like there was a rescue in the video, nothing that dramatic actually happened, says Johan Eriksson, Trygg-Hansa’s communications head.

“No one was close to drowning, but some of them needed help to get up from the pool,” Eriksson tells Quartz. ”This however shows precisely the problem with alcohol and swimming in real life—hubris, extra risk-taking and the need of help, [which] people don’t always get when they are out swimming on their own.” 

Sam Victorin, the Stockholm synchro team’s chairman, echoed something similar.

“I’m not sure why, but I suppose grown men are overconfident and just bad at listening. But that’s just my own theory,” he told The Local, a Scandinavian online newspaper.

Warming up wasted.

As far as the habits of middle-aged men go, their propensity to drunk dive is probably less surprising than their fondness for synchronized swimming. But Stockholm Konstsim Herr—as the team is known in Swedish—isn’t alone. Founded in 2003 by a handful of middle-aged men looking for a distraction from their daily routines, the team began their synchro careers thinking themselves the only all-male team out there. Yet as the documentary Men Who Swim explored, they soon discovered similar teams in Japan, Ukraine, France, Italy, Spain, and other countries. No word on whether those guys are any better at holding their liquor.

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