On the day before International Olympic Committee moved to allow men to compete in artistic swimming at the 2024 Olympics and beyond, American Kenny Gaudet he wondered what his presence in the former all-female sport would mean for the future.
“What a man can bring … I feel like what I do complements the girls: I add that strength, I support them,” the 18-year-old told Olympics.com in an exclusive interview.
“If a man is worthy of being on the team and helping to nurture the team, [then] let him in.
Traffic through IOC was revealed by World of Aquatics (formerly FINA) and will allow teams to have up to two male players.
While the Olympic green light is new, men are allowed to compete in certain disciplines in the World Aquatics international competitions and world championships. Gaudet competed in the mixed duos and men’s solo events during the final international season, finishing fifth at 2022 World Aquatics Championships with a partner Claudia Coletti.
The teen has Olympic aspirations and countless goals set before him, and says these achievements can only reinforce the changes he wants to see in the sport – and what it means to him and other men to compete in the sport.
“I think the path we are on now is definitely positive. I feel like I’m part of this journey,” he said. “I want to score high enough to be able to advocate and promote equality for men in sport.”
“I’m genuinely happy and proud of what I’ve done so far. But I’m not done yet. – Kenny Gaudet for Olympics.com
Kenny Gaudet on artistic swimming: “I love this sport”
Gaudet (clear gah-day), who grew up in Florida, said his family protected him as a young boy from the criticism he faced as a man in artistic swimming while participating in cheerleading.
He said that in his nearly decade in the sport, the tide has slowly turned and that male swimmers are now viewed in a positive light for what Gaudet believes is what all swimmers should look out for: their skill and merit.
“I grew up in school for it, and it really hurt me. I couldn’t handle it then,” he recalls. “Why do I have to explain why I’m doing something I love? I love this sport. Why do I have to explain this to you?
He continued, “It definitely passed me by and I grew up with it and I don’t get it [the bullying] that’s it now.
He and Coletti placed fifth in the mixed duo (both technical and freeform) at 2022 World Aquatics Championshipswhile Gaudet also competed in World Series events in the men’s singles event, winning a total of 10 international medals.
But neither the mixed duo nor the men’s solo were added to the Olympic program, instead the aforementioned two (out of 10) team spots were made available to men at the Games.
That’s his strength, says Gaudet, in supporting his teammates. He is six feet tall and has a huge wingspan. His movements in the water are different and he is working on his core skills with the US National team in Los Angeles to be a more supportive member of the underwater movement.
“I feel like I know that I can always give more and can always improve,” Gaudet said thoughtfully. “I’m not perfect. I’m far from perfect. That’s why I always want to strive for this throughout my career.
Burning trails – and friendship with Bill May
The mixed community of duos mentioned earlier is a community that Gaudet has become attached to as he has had the opportunity to travel to the World Series and World Championships. At the 2022 Worlds, 13 different countries fielded mixed duos from five different continents.
“The mixed duo community is such a little bubble… everyone knows each other and it’s fun,” he explained. “Meeting with [other competitors], getting to know them, getting to know their journeys. It’s one of the greatest things I’ve ever experienced.”
another american, Bill Mayhe was the first male to win a world title in artistic swimming in 2015. He supported the IOC’s move earlier this week, saying that the inclusion of men in the sport at the Olympics was once “considered an impossible dream”.
Gaudet saw May as a mentor and coach who attended a junior camp that May organized in early 2019 as Gaudet started moving up nationally in the juniors. Rather than trying to emulate May’s success, Gaudet says he’s just trying to continue the work he’s done.
“I remember when I met him at junior camp, I was very nervous because he is my idol,” Gaudet said with a laugh. “He’s a great leader. I really admire him.”
“I don’t want to copy or repeat his legacy,” he added of May. “I want to start my own. I want to be proud of what I swim and what I achieve. The more I show that I can perform better, do more and be better… the more I can support and show why men can be in this sport and why we should be allowed to do these things.
Kenny Gaudet: Taking it to the next level – and not looking back
At the end of 2021, Gaudet decided to move from Florida to cross-country: first to the Bay Area and then to Los Angeles, where Andrea Fuentesthe head coach of the American program, he coaches his team on the UCLA campus.
“I was very nervous coming here because before I moved I used to spend a maximum of six hours a week in the pool…now I’m there six days seven to eight hours a week,” he said. “I was scared, but I really enjoyed how the coaches pushed me while adjusting to what I needed.”
“It was a big step forward for me.”
Gaudet remains the only man in the national team, although there are juniors he says are on the right track, namely Michael ChanA 15-year-old who won the mixed duo world title at junior level last season.
“I’m really looking forward to seeing his future and what it holds for him,” Gaudet said of Khan. “The stereotypes of artistic swimming have decreased a lot. There’s a full men’s team in Santa Clara – they’ve got enough guys for that.”
It is the kind of slow change where Gaudet believes he is a small part, and the IOC announcement is a symbol of that.
“I definitely feel like one of the … pioneers in the sport,” he said. “It’s still not fully equal to the men’s point [all] events where we can swim. After all, I’m coaching the team because I get the chance to swim on the team, which I know is a big thing for all the guys in the world.”
He continued, “That’s why I think all the guys in the sport are really strong, like doing what we love and being in the sport. I’m proud of it”.