Article courtesy of The Sunday Telegraph
He is Australia’s first man of synchronised swimming. Now Ethan Calleja hopes to also become the first male to represent the country in the sport on the international stage.
Calleja and competition partner, experienced Olympian Danielle Kettlewell, will perform their Bonnie And Clyde routine for judges on Tuesday in a bid to compete at this year’s World Championships.
Although they don’t actually have to beat anyone — they are the only pair trying to qualify for the mixed duet event — Calleja believes his chance for success hinges on changing perceptions, in and out of the pool.
“There’s an assumption in society that men in artistic sports aren’t as masculine as others, but that’s not the case at all,” said Calleja.
“There are always going to be people who talk about you behind your back but you just have to take that on the chin and ignore it.
“I kind of fell into synchro by accident but once I got involved I fell in love with it and I’m the sort of person who loves a challenge.”
While the fight for sporting equality has been gathering pace for years, synchronised swimming has been one of the odd ones out. Unlike most sports, where females athletes are discriminated against, it’s men who have not been made welcome.
But things are starting to change. Mixed duet was included at the world championships for the first time in 2015 and it is likely to be added to the Paris Olympics in 2024. That was part of the reason Calleja was drawn to the sport.
The 19-year-old from Western Australia had dreamt of being an Olympic swimmer. He won state age titles and competed at national level but never progressed beyond to make it to the very top.
Needing some extra money while studying at university, he applied for a job helping Australian national coach Briana Preiss train synchronised swimmers — and the more he learnt about the sport the more he wanted to try it.
Preiss agreed to coach him but the tricky thing was finding a partner for him because no one in Australia had ever worked on mixed duet.
They decided to approach Kettlewell. Seven years older than Calleja and already an Olympian, she had been thinking about winding down her career. But she jumped at the chance.
“At first I thought they were joking because Australia just doesn’t have mixed duet,” she said.
“But once I knew they were serious I thought, ‘what an amazing opportunity this is to make history and promote our sport in a positive way’.
“We’re like a brother and sister and it’s been fun — and there have been funny things happen, especially when I’ve accidentally kicked him in certain places where it doesn’t matter if you kick girls in those spots. But we’re building that chemistry.”
So how does coach Preiss rate their chances? “I certainly believe they’re good enough,” she said. “They have worked so hard and have come so far in a short time and this is a big moment for our sport.”