Facts About Competitive Swimming

Swimming pool

Competitive swimming dates back to B.C., although it didn’t debut in the Olympics until 2,000 years later. The sport has grown from its early beginnings of men-only, open-water competitions to pool events that include any gender, age and skill level – along with plenty of rules.

The Beginnings

Although Japan gets credit for holding the first swimming races in 36 B.C., England gets credit for turning it into a competitive sport in the 1800s. Swimming the English Channel was true proof of a successful competitive swimmer, one that could go the distance regardless of the speed, or lack thereof. Speed became a factor when a group of American Indians traveled to London for a swimming competition and one of them took only 30 seconds to swim 130 feet, according to Encyclopedia.com. The speed was impressive to the English but the swimming strokes, which they deemed unrefined, were not. Swimming made it into the Olympics in 1896.

The Strokes

The breaststroke and sidestroke, both born of the dog paddle, were the strokes preferred by early European competitive swimmers. The American Indians, Pacific Islanders and West Africans used variations of what would later become known as the crawl. The first Olympic swimming competitions allowed the breaststroke and freestyle swimming. Competition opened to include the sidestroke in 1904 and the butterfly stroke in the 1940s, according to USA Swimming.

Enter The Pool And Women

Early Olympic swimming competitions took place in open water. Using a pool with and a set of organized rules did not come into play until the 1908 games in London, USA Swimming says. Women, too, did not immediately enter the competitive swimming scene. The original belief dictated they were too frail. The 1912 Olympics finally allowed swimming competitions for women, who could get help training through the Women’s Swimming Association of New York.

Rules And Training

If you want to break into competitive swimming, you can start with a school team and move on to the more than 4,000 annual events sanctioned by USA Swimming. The events, which include national and international meets, help train swimmers to reach Olympics heights. In addition to knowing how to swim, you will be expected to follow a host of competitive swimming rules and guidelines as well as submit to a drug test if asked. Rules cover everything from the requirements for breaking a national or world record to the type of swimsuits you’re allowed to wear.