The sport of swimming, like many other sporting activities, brings people together who compete with a common goal – to win! Unlike athletics, which demands that the athlete does what comes naturally and run, basic swimming is a learned skill. It is not intuitive for anyone to just jump into water and learn on the fly; in fact that could be fatal. What then drives us into the water? Perhaps, in the same way that we marvel at bird flight and want to experience the experience of soaring above the world, so too, we may desire to float on water and even join the sea creatures by remaining in their environment for as long as possible.
There is evidence that people swam as early as 4000 BC but as with many activities, it gained popularity as a sport some-time after the Middle Ages. The exact style of the first swimmers is not clear but freestyle and breaststroke seem to have been popular, based on old drawings discovered.
Swimming has featured in all the Olympic Games from 1896 to this day with two events, freestyle and breaststroke, being included until 1904 when backstroke made its debut. What about butterfly? Butterfly was only added during the 1940s when the breaststrokers discovered they could swim faster by bringing arms forward over their head instead of stretching out in front of them under the water, somewhat like a frog.. This new faster-than-breaststroke style made its first appearance at the Olympics during the 1956 Melbourne games and forms one of the four swimming styles at every Olympiad since.
Swimming is one of the few competitive sports where the women’s events differ only slightly from that of the mens in that the freestyle distance for men is 1500 meters with the women’s event being only 800. But is there any other Olympic water sport that seems to favour the ladies? Enter Synchronised Swimming.
Synchronised swimming is a combination of swimming, gymnastics and dance, which is performed to music. Although a form of swimming and dance has been with us for over a century it was first seen at the Olympics first in 1984 in Los Angeles as a competitive sport, with Canada, Japan and the USA having taken all the medals.
In South Africa, we have the ideal climate for swimming. Perhaps this has been the inspiration for names like Roland Schoeman, Ryk Neethling, Cameron van der Burgh and the most contemporary professional, Chad Le Clos, all having excelled as swimmers and brought home the medals.
The future of swimming depends on the passion and discipline of those who spend hundreds of lonely hours in water. At each turn, the reminder of a gold medal excites their imagination and calms their burning muscles to tackle the next 1000 meters, and the next, as they build a human machine, never meant for water but tuned to swim and dive and dance without touching the ground.