Olympics-May says barriers broken with male inclusion in artistic swimming

Swimming - 18th FINA World Swimming Championships - Mixed Duet Free Preliminary - Yeomju Gymnasium, Gwangju, South Korea - July 19, 2019. Bill May and Natalia Vega Figueroa of the U.S compete. REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina/File Photo

NEW YORK (Reuters) - American artistic swimmer Bill May wants to see the next generation inspired to break gender barriers, as his sport allows male competitors at the Paris Olympics for the first time.

May was the first male world champion in the inaugural mixed duet technical event at the 2015 World Aquatics Championships and the 45-year-old never lost his passion for the sport even when an Olympic bid felt nearly impossible.

"I was more than persistent - I was stubborn," May told reporters at the Team USA media summit in New York on Tuesday.

"Then when it was added to the Olympics, it was just that kind of extra cherry on top that I was like, 'Okay, this is a final thing that I'm going to go for'."

May was part of the United States team that qualified for the Olympics in February. He will learn whether he will make the trip to Paris when the U.S. Olympic artistic swimming team is announced in June.

"Every day I think about the Olympics and I think about being there with our coaches and our team mates," he said. "It's such a dream."

World Aquatics announced in 2022 that men would be allowed to compete in artistic swimming at the Games. May said the change could have a profound impact on future generations.

"Now young athletes will see that men can go to the Olympics in all sports," he said. "They'll see that gender barriers are breaking down."

He is well prepared for the biggest show in international sport after a decade-long career with Cirque du Soleil, where he once caught snippets of the Rio Olympic competition on his phone during makeup sessions and costume changes.

"We had to perform for 4,000 people a night," he said. "It helped me to be in a space where I knew that I had to be on every single moment."

(Reporting by Amy Tennery and Maria Alejandra Cardona in New York; Editing by Toby Davis)

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