Table of Contents
Swimming is among the oldest sports in the history of mankind. It was practised as a part of military training in 2500 BCE in Egypt before being introduced in the Assyrian, Greek, and Roman civilizations for the same reason. Gradually, it also became a part of elementary education for males in several civilizations.
In the 1st century BCE, swimming pools were built in the Roman Empire where only males were allowed. During the 17th century, swimming became a renowned activity in Japan, and game tournaments were also organized in the East Asian country before their exposure to European countries and North America.
Diving into History
Swimming took its first step competitively when the Swimming Organization of London was formed in 1837. Nine years later, Australia hosted the first official swimming championship, which was a 400-metre race in 1846. In 1869, the Metropolitan Swimming Clubs of London was formed under the governing body of British amateur swimming.
In the 1880s, other European countries also took a step forward and introduced their associations for amateur swimming. The United States also stepped into the scene with the formation of the Amateur Athletic Union in 1888. The first edition of the Olympic Games was held in 1896, and swimming was a part of the competition.
However, the competition also took place in the Seine River in France and swimmers had to climb up a poll during the race. All the unusual practices were later ruled out of the competition after the Federation Internationale de Natation Amateur was founded in 1909. Before 1912, the Olympic games were only for men, but in 1912 women also started participating in the tournament.
Under new guidelines and rules, different styles of swimming, which are freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke, and butterfly, later also became a part of the competitive tournaments. The World Aquatics Championships (formerly known as the FINA World Championships) took place for the first time in 1973 in Belgrade, and the gold medal was secured by the United States, who dominated the equation of swimming in the late 19th century.
They later dominated the Championships until 1986, when East Germany won the gold medal ahead of the United States, which secured the silver crown. Over the years, numerous rules and regulations have been changed in the sport of swimming, and the globe has seen various nations and swimmers emerging as World Champions.
Current Titans of the Pool
Over the years, the name of Michael Phelps has become a synonym for swimming. He started swimming at the young age of seven. Phelps made his Olympic debut in 2000 Sydney but failed to finish on the podium in his maiden campaign. In 2001, he became the youngest swimmer to hold a world-record holder in men’s swimming after he posted 1 min 54.92 sec in the 200-metre butterfly.
During the 2004 Athens Olympics, the American won six gold medals. Moreover, in 2008, he became the first athlete in history to win eight gold medals in a single edition of the Olympics. Before announcing his retirement, he won 28 medals in the mega sporting fest, which included 23 goal medals.
Taking a look at the current scenario, Katie Ledecky is a name that can’t be ignored. She is the most decorated female swimmer in the history of the Olympic Games, with a total of 10 medals, including seven golds. At the age of 26, she already has 21 World Championships gold medals.
Other than the likes of the US, China and Australia are also emerging as superpowers in swimming on the global stage. Qin Haiyang has been leading the men’s contingent for the Asian nation; however, he’s yet to get his hands on an Olympic medal. The 24-year-old is the current world record holder in the 200m breaststroke (2:05:48). He also won four gold medals at the 2023 Fukuoka World Championships.
Australia’s Kaylee McKeown has been emerging as an indomitable force in swimming, especially in backstroke. The 22-year-old won four medals (three gold) at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. On the other hand, she already has 17 medals in the World Championships.
Perfecting the Techniques
There are five styles or techniques in swimming, and all of them are different from each other in various ways.
- 1. Freestyle: Freestyle is the most common style in swimming, where swimmers use their whole body to push themselves forward with flutter kicks and alternate arm movements. Swimmers use their arms to push the water backward while their legs are used to move forward.
- 2. Breaststroke: Known as one of the most challenging styles in the sport, breaststroke is performed with the help of frog kicks and symmetrical hand movements. Swimmers make an arc to move forward inside the water and then face outside to breathe by bending their knees.
- 3. Backstroke: With consistent flutter kicks and compact hand movements over the head, backstroke is performed with the back facing down. After butterfly and freestyle, backstroke is the third fastest technique in swimming. Breathing is also easier in this style.
- 4. Butterfly: Butterfly is arguably the most exhausting technique in swimming. Swimmers perform a dolphin-like movement with the hips and rotate their arms in an hourglass motion under the water to move forward. However, all the motions are required to be in a similar rhyme in order to move forward faster.
- 5. Sidestroke: Sidestroke is a recreational technique that is used while rescuing someone. The head always stays outside the water and flutter kicks are used to move forward. However, sidestroke is not recognized as competitive.
Swimming’s Bright Future
Australia emerged as the winner of the 2023 Fukuoka World Championships (swimming) with a total of 25 medals, out of which 13 were gold medals. The second position was secured by the United States with 38 medals, including seven golds, while the People’s Republic of China dropped to the third position with five golds, three silvers, and eight bronze medals.
The Paris Olympics is the most anticipated event for all the swimmers, and it will be taking place in July-August 2024. Before that, the Doha World Championships will be organized in February 2024.
Haiyang and McKeown are the leading figures in swimming in their respective disciplines. Apart from the two names, China’s Li Bingjie, Australia’s Kyle Chambers, South Africa’s Tatjana Schoenmaker, and Tunisia’s Ahmed Hafnaoui hold the ability to become the next torchbearer in swimming.