When the United States synchronized swimming teams dove into the pool to begin their routines, patriots from around the country stood and cheered and waved American flags.
But Menomonee Falls native, and longtime Dolphinettes coach, Linda Loehndorf remained seated and held her enthusiasm inside.
Loehndorf’s patriotism is by no means in doubt, but during the Olympics synchronized swimming competition, she was a bit occupied. She was one of 14 international judges determining which country’s team would take home the gold medal in the 30th Olympiad in London.
Though the games officially ended last week, the memories of the quadrennial event will remain with Loehndorf for a lifetime.
“I thought I was going to have a heart attack the first day we had to march out as judges,” Loehndorf said. “It was such a huge venue, and the announcers get the crowd wound up. I thought, 'Oh my God, I hope I don’t fall, or trip up the steps.’”
Synchronized swimming challenges teams of athletes to perform acrobatic water maneuvers in unison, to music, and often underwater. This year, the Russians once again displayed their dominance in the sport — in part due to Loehndorf’s golden eye.
“I’ve had the opportunity to judge a world championship and that was my first time seeing the Russian team up close,” Loehndorf said. “I find it absolutely phenomenal what they do. It’s amazing how they use the music.”
For roughly 30 years, Loehndorf has been coaching girls of all ages as the head coach of the Dolphinettes, which is the Falls’ Recreation Department's synchronized swimming program. She has helped countless young women in the area dive deeper into a sport, and more importantly help shape them into women.
“Unlike teachers, I get these girls for sometimes 10 years,” Loehndorf said.
She also has worked her way up the judging ranks over the past 20 years and has judged numerous national and international competitions. Before the Olympics started the Fédération Internationale de Natation — or International Swimming Federation — chose Loehndorf to join 14 other judges from around the world.
She originally got interested in judging to learn more about the sport, and a friend of hers pushed her to higher levels. Loehndorf was a synchronized swimmer herself in Iowa before heading to Wisconsin.
A Tough Job
And just like athletes before the event, the judges get nervous as well. They have a tough job. Both technical and artistic points are given for each performance, and each judge gives three scores.
Unlike the National Football League, synchronized swimming judges do not have replay screens. They have to rely solely on their first impressions.
“From the time the performance is over, you have about 10 seconds to get your final numbers in,” Loehndorf said. “You want to be doing the best, and the most stressful thing was that the Americans competed first. We just watch it and score, and that’s it.”
Don’t worry about biased judges, though. They all stayed in a hotel far from the Olympic Village. Despite the tough task of determining a country’s glory, Loehndorf and her fellow judges had plenty of time to visit sites in London. They often dined together and went to a musical as a group on their time off. All the officials were also given passes to travel for free throughout London.
“It was a very nice international experience,” Loehndorf said. “We’re all still emailing each other back and forth.”
As far as the food in London, I don’t think Loehndorf would give the cuisine a gold medal.
“I kept seeing baked beans for breakfast,” Loehndorf said. “Toast with baked beans over the side were always on the menus. Yuck.”