Topical History

History of Swimming


Swimming has been recorded since prehistoric times; the earliest recording of swimming dates back to Stone Age paintings from around 7,001 years ago.

Some of the earliest references to swimming include the Gilgamesh, the Iliad, the Odyssey, the Bible, Beowulf, and other sagas. In 1578, Nikolaus Wynmann, a German professor of languages, wrote the first swimming book, The Swimmer or A Dialogue on the Art of Swimming. Competitive swimming in Europe started around 1800, mostly using breaststroke. In 1873, John Arthur Trudgen introduced the trudgen to Western swimming competitions, after copying the front crawl used by Native Americans. Due to a British dislike of splashing, Trudgen employed a scissor kick instead of the front crawl's flutter kick. Swimming was part of the first modern Olympic Games in 1896 in Athens.

Olympic History

The Olympic Games were held in 1896 in Athens, a male-only competition. Six events were planned for the swimming competition, but only four events were actually contested: 100 m, 500 m, and 1200 m freestyle and 100 m for sailors. The first gold medal was won by Alfred Hajos of Hungary in the 100 m freestyle with a time of 1:22.20. Hajos was also victorious in the 1200 m event, and was unable to compete in the 500 m, which was won by Austrian Paul Neumann. Another swimming competition of 100 m for sailors included three Greek sailors in Bay of Zea near Piraeus, starting from a rowing boat. The winner was Ioannis Malokinis in two minutes and 20 seconds. A 1500 m race was also performed.

The Trudgen was improved by Australian-born Richmond Cavill (born Sydney 1884). Cavill, whose father Frederick Cavill narrowly failed to swim the English Channel, is credited with developing the stroke by observing a young boy from the Solomon Island, Alick Wickham. Cavill and his brothers (Sydney, Charles, Arthur, Ernest and Percy) were all champion swimmers and formed arguably the greatest swimming dynasty. They spread the Australian crawl to England, New Zealand and America. Richmond - or Dick as he was better known - used this stroke in 1902 at an International Championships in England to set a new world record by out swimming all Trudgen swimmers over the 100 yards (91 m) in 0:58.4.

The Olympics in 1904 in St. Louis included races over 50 yards (46 m), 100 yards, 220 yards (200 m), 440 yards, 880 yards (800 m) and one mile (1.6 km) freestyle, 100 yards (91 m) backstroke and 440 yards (400 m) breaststroke, and the 4x50 yards freestyle relay. These games differentiated between breaststroke and freestyle, so that there were now two defined styles (breaststroke and backstroke) and freestyle, where most people swam Trudgen. These games also featured a competition to plunge for distance, where the distance without swimming, after jumping in a pool, was measured.

In 1907 the swimmer Annette Kellerman from Australia visited the United States as an "Underwater Ballerina", a version of Synchronized swimming, diving into glass tanks. She was arrested for indecent exposure, as her swimsuit showed arms, legs and the neck. Kellerman changed the suit to have long arms and legs, and a collar, still keeping the close fit revealing the shapes underneath. She later starred in several movies, including one about her life.

In 1922, Johnny Weissmuller became the first person to swim the 100 m in less than a minute, using a six kicks per cycle Australian crawl. Johnny Weissmuller started the golden age of swimming, winning five Olympic medals and 36 national championships and never losing a race in his ten-year career, until he retired from swimming and started his second career starring as Tarzan in film. His record of 51 seconds in 100-yard (91 m) freestyle stood for over 17 years. In the same year, Sybil Bauer was the first woman to break a men’s world record over the 440 m backstroke in 6:24.8.

At the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris, lane dividers made of cork were used for the first time, and lines on the pool bottom aided with orientation. Butterfly was developed in the 1930s and was at first a variant of breaststroke, until it was accepted as a separate style in 1952.