Swimming can be traced back to ancient civilization. The artwork of Egyptians, Assyrians, Hittites, and Minoans,
dating back to 2000 BC, includes illustrations of people swimming. These early swimmers often mimicked the "dog-stroke",
a method of swimming that proved to be highly inefficient. Although it was not part of the ancient Olympics games, the
Greeks were also very fond of swimming.
Nicholas Wynman, a German professor of languages, created the first publication on swimming in 1538. In 1696, French
author Thevenot described the breaststroke in his book The Art of Swimming. The breaststroke remained the most
popular swimming technique in Europe until the late 1800's. This stroke provides excellent stability but suffers from
limitations in speed.
Organized competitive swimming became popular in Europe in the 19th century. By 1837, indoor pools were common and the
National Swimming Society of London began to regulate competition. Despite certain drawbacks, the Europeans primarily
used the breaststroke and the sidestroke in competition. In 1844, two Native American swimmers, Flying Gull and Tobacco,
participated in a London swimming meet. Using a "windmill thrashing" motion that was later recognized as a form of the
crawl, Flying Gull defeated Tobacco by swimming the 130-foot distance in 30 seconds. Despite the Native Americans'
impressive performance, the English continued to use the breaststroke and a frog-like kicking motion in competition.
It wasn't until the late 1800s that Arthur Trudgen, followed by Frederick Cavill, introduced the crawl to Europeans.
Both men owe their development of this new technique to observations of native swimmers in the South Seas. In 1902,
Cavill's son Richard used this stroke to set a world record in a 100-yard event with a time of 58.4 seconds. Today's
Australian crawl is the stroke of choice in many freestyle competitions. The alternate overhand motion of the arms and a
flutter kick of two to six beats per rhythm cycle characterize this stroke. The two-beat kick is used for distance racing
and the six-beat kick is used for sprint events.
The crossing of the English Channel is a benchmark for strength, distance and duration. In 1875, Captain Matthew Webb
was the first to swim across the Channel. Using the breaststroke, Web swam the 21.26 miles from Dover, England to Cape
Gris Nez, France in 21 hours and 45 minutes. The first woman to cross the English Channel was Gertrude Ederle in 1926.
American Chad Hundley (1994) currently holds the record for the fastest crossing of the English Channel.
In the 1920's, American Johnny Weissmuller set world records in 67 different events. These events had distances ranging
from 50 yards to 880 yards. Amazingly, Weissmuller never lost a race during his 10-year career. He eventually traded
swimming for acting, becoming Hollywood's legendary Tarzan.
Swimming strokes have been greatly refined during the last 100 years. Competitive swimming, including the introduction
of the modern Olympic games in 1896, is largely responsible for this increased interest in stroke development. The
breaststroke has undergone little change and is still a competitive event today. The butterfly stroke, which evolved
from the breaststroke during the 1930's, became a competitive event in 1953. Another swimming stroke, the backstroke,
was first introduced in the 1900 Olympic games.
You can get more information about swimming from
USA Swimming (USS)
,the national governing body for competitive swimming in the United States.