Bill May aims to be first man on 2024 US Olympics artistic swim team


Bill May is trying to become the first man on the US Olympics artistic swimming team.

Since a 2022 rule change allowed men to compete in the artistic swimming category – previously known as synchronized swimming – at the 2024 Paris Olympics Games, 45-year-old Billy May has his last chance to fulfill a lifelong dream of competing in the Olympics.

For more than three decades, May has been considered a trailblazer in the sport and a figurehead in the movement for the sport to become more inclusive to men. However, no matter how much he has achieved as an athlete, the 45-year-old has to hold his own against women half his age.

On Saturday, out of twelve people who qualified for the Olympic team, only eight and an alternate will make the final cut for Paris. In an interview with the New York Times, head coach Andrea Fuentes admitted that the decision weighed heavily on her, especially after having idolized May for years.

“I grew up being Bill’s fan, and we all know him as a pioneer in the sport,” she told the outlet. “And he’s such a great human being, not just as a swimmer but as a person. But you have to do what is best for the team.”

Meanwhile, May has been trying to keep a cool head as the powers that be weigh his Olympic chances. During a break while practicing at Park Pool at the University of California, Los Angeles, May spoke about the decision to the outlet.

“I’m nervous for myself,” he admitted. “It would be devastating not to make the Olympic team — that maybe I could have done something different, or worked harder.”

Team USA and Bill May of Team USA celebrate with their bronze medals after the Mixed Team Acrobatic during the World Aquatics Artistic Swimming World Cup 2024 at Aquatics Centre on 5 May 2024 in Paris, France (Getty Images)
Team USA and Bill May of Team USA celebrate with their bronze medals after the Mixed Team Acrobatic during the World Aquatics Artistic Swimming World Cup 2024 at Aquatics Centre on 5 May 2024 in Paris, France (Getty Images) (Getty Images)

The sport first made a splash at the Olympics in 1984, winning over viewers with its complex mix of ballet, acrobatics, theatrics, and of course, swimming. To compete as an artistic swimmer, it takes an insane amount of cardiovascular conditioning on par with sprinters as well as the flexibility of gymnasts.

May was already a gymnast and competitive swimmer before he fell in love with artistic swimming at age 10. Thanks to the support of his parents, May fully pursued the support, despite it consisting predominantly of women.

“I didn’t think you had to look a certain way,” he said. “I just knew that I loved the sport.”

By the time he was sixteen, May was swimming with the Syracuse Synchro Cats and the Oswego Lakettes, whose coaches told him they had nothing left to teach him. Around that time, the athlete moved to California to train with the Santa Clara Aquamaids under the guidance of Chris Carver, the best coach in the country.

“I thought he was going to be wonderful,” Carver said. “First of all, he’s kind of unusual for a man in that he is so flexible. And he has nice feet and he’s strong, but he had a tremendous drive and was trying to improve himself. He’s very humble, very accepting of critiques and criticism and very easy to work with.”

As his reputation grew, he began to compete nationally and dominate competitions, but at the time, competing at the international level was still not an option for men. After cheering from the sidelines at the 2004 Athens Olympics, May retired from the sport at 25 to join Cirque du Soleil’s aquatic spectacle O for the next 17 years.

Despite leaving the sport, May became an ambassador for male participation in artistic swimming. He returned to the fray in 2014 when the world championships allowed artistic swimming mixed duets – pairs of one man and one woman – and won a gold medal with Christina Jones for the technical competition, and a silver medal with Kristina Lum-Underwood for the free competition.

As he won more medals and later went on to take Carver’s place as head coach of the Aquamaids, May continued to push for male eligibility in artistic swimming at the Olympics, which up until 2024 had been elusive.

With his dream within reach, it remains to be seen if May will prevail, but ultimately he is proud of making it so far. He noted, “I’ve been in the sport for 35 years, and I’m so proud and grateful for everything it’s given me.”


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