“You know that thing that you’ve been waiting for your entire life, but then you give up on the hope that it would ever happen … and then it suddenly happens?” Benoit Beaufils’ dream came true this week in Russia, where he represented France’s national synchronized swimming team in the first mixed-duet contest at the FINA World Championships.
Beaufils, a performing acrobat in Le Rêve, effectively came out of a 17-year synchro retirement to compete as partners with decorated Olympic synchronized swimmer Virginie Dedieu, whom Beaufils calls “the best there ever was.”
While the gold for the technical mixed duet was claimed this week by fellow veteran Las Vegas performers Bill May and Christina Jones, who work together in Cirque du Soleil’s O, Beaufils and Dedieu had yet to compete in the free mixed duet contest at press time.
We spoke with Beaufils before the championships about his athletic beginnings and the long wait for men to compete in international synchro at this week’s global competition.
How did you get your start in synchronized swimming? I started when I was about 6 or 7 years old. My sister had become a swimmer, and my mom became a coach very early on. They would take me to every training, because they didn’t want to pay for a babysitter. At the time I was a gymnast and a swimmer, so little by little I [got] in the water, and before I knew it I was a synchronized swimmer.
Did you have the urge to compete before you were asked to represent France? I always wondered what I would do if ever they were to change the rules, but I always assumed that France had enough boys that would be better than I would. I was wrong (laughs). The coach of the national team, Julie Fabre, called me right away.
Men still can’t compete in team, non-mixed duet or solo events at the Olympics and World Championships. Do you think we’ll see that happen, too? For sure. I think there’s definitely a wind of change in synchronized swimming. … I think that they really wanted to test the water to see how many countries have men in their ranks. If the event is successful this year, we could expect the rules to change for the Olympics. If not for Rio, then definitely Tokyo in 2020.
What do you think is behind the delay? Is there a sexist stigma there? I think it’s more the fact that the sport is very difficult for men in general, because we naturally do not float. … For a man to be on the same level as a woman, they have to work twice as hard.
You’ve been performing in Las Vegas for over a decade, in O and Le Rêve. What inspired you to move here? The show. Cirque contacted me way back, when I was still competing. Just the idea of getting to perform every day and actually get paid to do synchonized swimming was another dream come true. I had always thought when I was done competitively I would have to retire my swim shoes and find an office job.
You retired from the sport 17 years ago, but you’re still in great shape. Did you have to change up your workout regimen or diet? At Le Rêve I became an acrobat … so I had obviously changed my muscle tone. My muscles, instead of being lengthy like they were when I was a swimmer, became more compact as a gymnast. So I did have to lay off the weights a little bit and spend a lot more time in the water. … I started being able to eat a lot more than I used to, because suddenly in a workout I would spend over 2,000 calories, so I was hungry all the time. I could eat all I wanted, and I was just getting slimmer and slimmer. So it’s a good change of diet! (laughs)
What has your training schedule been like leading up to competition? First of all, waking up to my 8-month-old baby very early every morning (laughs). My partner and I just had a friend of ours be our surrogate. … Whenever I can, I head to the pool and swim about two to three hours a day. Then I go home, nap and do the show, and before the show I always have a workout with a personal trainer at Le Rêve.