The History of Swimming

Beginning as a recreational sport in prehistoric times, swimming has grown from a ritualistic activity in ancient Egypt to a worldwide Olympic sport. In many civilizations, drawings were found of people swimming. The pictures depicted strokes like the breaststroke and dog paddle. Ancient societies including Minoans, Babylonians, Egyptians, and the Assyrians had cave wall drawings and clay seals portraying swimmers. In the Indian palace called Mohenjo Daro, a swimming pool (measuring 30m by 60m) can be found.

In the early Olympics, the Greek did not include swimming, but pools were often built, and the sport was common recreationally. In fact, a common insult was to say that someone doesn’t know how to run or swim. In Japan, swimming was an art of the Samurai. The first known swimming races were under the rule of emperor Suigui, in 36 B.C.

As the world grew into the Middle Ages, knights generally were required to learn to swim in full armor. Following this, swimming became less popular and often disrespected. Swimming was done with little clothing, and the growing conservativeness of the people made it inappropriate. A 16th century German court document made nude public swimming illegal for children.

However, swimming certainly did not end entirely. Leonardo da Vinci created drawings of early lifebelts. A German man named Nicolas Wynman wrote the first book on swimming, called Colymbetes. His ideals were not exercise, but rather prevention of drowning. His book taught the breaststroke and also the use of flotation devices, like cow bladders filled with air, and belts made of cork.

The first national swimming organization was established in Japan. In 1603 Emperor Go-Yozei insisted that school children learn to swim. After several more historical breakthroughs, swimming became more competitive, and similar to ways today.

In the 1800’s, many new organizations were formed. The lifebelt was invented, and the first indoor swimming pool was built in England. Strokes became more professional, and several were invented. The front crawl and the breaststroke were modified, and the sidestroke became common. A stroke called the Trudgen, in which the arms are stretched forward and the body rolls from side to side, became popular. Kicks became more varied, as well, such as the scissor kick and the flutter kick. Synchronized swimming began in the 1890’s, with the first competition (a men’s-only event) held in Berlin.

In the Olympics, which were quickly becoming more like the modern day games, swimming was first included in 1896. The first gold metal for swimming was awarded to a Hungarian man named Alfred Hajos. In 1900 Paris, more events were added, including an aquatic obstacle course and water polo.

A swimmer named Annette Kellerman visited the U.S.A. from Australia in the year of 1907. She was arrested for indecent exposure, as her swimming suit revealed her arms, legs, and neck. After altering her swimsuit to add more coverage, she became an actress and took leading roles in several movies, including her own biography.

In the 1912 Olympic games in Stockholm, Sweden, women were finally allowed to participate in the aquatic events. However, they still had less events to choose from and, as their swimsuits had to cover them completely, they had a slight disadvantage.

In 1928, a swimming coach at Iowa University, David Armbruster, began to film underwater swimmers, provoking further studies and investigations of the science involved in swimming. Japanese scientists also started using underwater filming. As a result, Japan took many gold metals in the 1932 Olympics.

As the study of this science grew more popular, many modifications to strokes took place, specifically to the butterfly stroke. This stroke was difficult, but the increase in speed of athletes who used it proved that it was very worthwhile. Despite this research, the dolphin fishtail kicking style was against Olympic rules, and therefore most swimmers did not utilize the butterfly stroke. In 1952, the butterfly was no longer considered a variation of the breaststroke, but as a different stroke with an individual set of rules. Also, a modification to the backstroke became well-known and is now commonly used.

During the year of 1972, a famous swimmer by the name of Mark Spitz won seven gold metals in the Summer Olympics held in Munich, Germany. To this day, he holds this world record- more gold metals than any swimmer has ever been awarded. The following year, the world’s first world cup in swimming took place in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, hosted by the FINA (Federation Internationale de Natation de Amateur, an organization started in 1908).

Today, swimming is one of the main events in the Summer Olympics, and a favored family activity. Pools can be found in billions of cities worldwide, including indoor and outdoor aquatic facilities. They are featured in many hotels and apartment complexes, and are part of most high school and college gym courses. Advances in technology and availability have made swimming a major part of life in many cultures, and permanently changed the athletic world.

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