The top of this page is the history of swimming section from the course outlines for swim classes at De Anza College, in bold, with notes, stories and links specific to that part of the curriculum.
The second is extra notes not yet in the curriculum, such as the first wave pool, why Benjamin Franklin was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame, first rescue tubes and how the Ironman got started.
The page is now quite long, so if you are looking for something in particular, I suggest you try using the EDIT-Find on This Page function on your computer (type Ctrl F on some computers) to search for a key word like Ironman, free, life, surf, polo, scuba, a year (such as 1924) or the name of a person.
(ARCS&D) denotes quotes from the American Red Cross book Swimming and Diving. (ARCS&WS) denotes quotes from American Red Cross Swimming and Water Safety. The Red Cross Swimming and Water Safety text came with no index, so I wrote one: Swimming and Water Safety 2009 index
A. Examine the global and historical development of swimming from survival to competition.
1. History of swimming
a. Egyptian bas-relief 2000 B.C. on the front crawl.
b. Assyrian stove carvings of the breaststroke.
(ARCS&WS) “In the Nimrud Gallery of the British Museum are a series of excellent bas-reliefs … all depicting swimming figures… assigned to about 850 B.C. Most of these are of military motive, depicting scenes of battle in which soldiers are shown crossing streams. In many cases, they are shown swimming with aid of a mussuk, an inflated goat or sheep skin. With the mussuk clasped against the chest with one arm, the figures are using a vertical kick and a hand-over-hand stroke with the free arm. A number of these are depicted with out the support of a mussuk, swimming an unmistakable hand-overhand stroke.”
One source said that the legend from one stone carving says “They fled – like fishes crossed the river.”
c. Hittites, Minoans, and other early civilizations swimming and diving skills.
Mosaics from Middle Eastern civilizations and Pompeii look much like a doggie-paddle.
(ARCS&WS) “Tales of great feats of swimming prowess are recorded in the sagas of Scandinavia, in the English epic poem Beowulf and in certain Greek and Roman classics, but in every case it is the feat itself and not the swimming technique that is described.”
d. Swimming publications
1. 1538 Nicolas Wyman – Germany
Wyman’s (Winnmann’s? Wynman’s?) book (published in latin, titled The Diver, or A Dialogue Concerning the Art of Swimming, Both Pleasant and Joyful to Read), also covered early rescuing techniques and said that the rescuer should not permit the victim to seize him. Rescuers were encouraged to be able to swim with one arm (a forerunner of pre-rescue tube lifesaving swim strokes).
2. 1696 Thevenot – France The Art of Swimming –
(ARCS&WS 2004) “In 1587 Sir Evarard Digby of England wrote the Latin De arte natandi (The Art of Swimming). Years later, Melchisedec Thevenot translated or adapted Digby’s work into French. After Thevenot’s death, his version was published in 1696 with him as sole author. After the English translation of Thevenot’s French translation of Digby’s Latin original, a process that took 112 years, The Art of Swimming became the standard swimming reference. It described a type of breaststroke done with the face out of the water and an underwater arm recovery. This stroke gave the swimmer good stability, even in rough water. The breaststroke was the most common stroke in Europe for centuries.”
a) Breast stroke becomes most common stroke for centuries.
→ Whoa, hold on, was that the answer to a test question on the swim class written final !!!???
2. History of swimming competition
a. First mention of competitive swimming – Japan 36 B.C.
b. England – first modern society to develop swimming as sport – 1837
1. Strokes – breaststroke, sidestroke
2. 1844 – Native Americans – Flying Gull and Tobacco compete
a) “windmill motion with up and down kicking”
Flying Gull and Tobacco (Ojibwa) were invited to London by the Swimming Society. The British had been using the breaststroke. Flying Gull beat Tobacco by swimming across a 130 foot pool in thirty seconds. An observer called their swimming “totally un-European” saying that they “thrashed the water violently with their arms, like sails on a windmill, and beat downward with their feet, blowing with force and forming grotesque antics.”
c. Competition for people with disabilities
1. 1924 First Summer World games for hearing impaired.
2. 1968 First Summer games including people with cognitive disabilities.
d. Olympics in 1896 – men, 1912 – women
The ancient Olympic Games did not include swimming, but the Greeks swam and held swimming in high regard. A big Greek insult would have been to say of another man he “neither knew how to run nor swim.” Yet another source says that a definition of an uncultured person was “he learnt neither how to read nor to swim.”
Plato thought men who did not know how to swim were uneducated.
One source says the first Olympics swimming was only four events, three of them freestyle. Another says there were only three events.
The developer of the first modern Olympic games (ARCS&D) “held firmly to the assumption, common in the Victorian era, that women were too frail to engage in competitive sports.” Plus, they would be wearing revealing swimsuits where men could see them.
In 1900 women were allowed to compete in golf and tennis, or, depending on which source, the first sports may have been field sports and yachting.
Women first swam in the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm competing in 100M free, 4 x 100 relay and diving. The first winner was Fanny Durack of Australia. Her 100 meter freestyle time was 1:22.2, which equaled a men’s time in 1896.
One official complained the women’s swimming made it “an impractical, unaesthetic and indecorous feminine Olympiad.”
e. English Channel – Cpt. Matthew Webb 1st male 1875, Gertrude Ederle 1st female 1926,
Marcus Hooper – youngest (12) 1979, Ashby Harper – oldest (66) 1983. – – see below, some of these records have changed…
(Since then, in 1987, the oldest became Australian Clifford Batts at the age of 67 years, 240 days. Then, in 2004, George Brunstad of the USA at 70 years and 4 days. (George was quoted: “I thought I could make it, but it was pretty darn uncomfortable.” He used the swim as a fundraiser to build an orphanage, medical center and schools in the Haitian town of Hinche and said he thought about the kids to keep himself going. He also credited good weather and currents. As he dryed himself off he said: “my muscles are feeling fine right now, but I’ll let you know tomorrow.”)
In 2007 Linda Ashmore of the UK became the oldest woman at 60 years, 10 months and 4 days. “It was a beautiful day and there were no clouds in the sky … the first 11-12 hours were great and I thoroughly enjoyed it, but the last bit was quite horrendous. I just had to swim stroke by stroke to get to the other side … I was always pretty determined. As long as my arms were still moving and working, I was going to keep going … Don’t tell anyone but I am thinking of doing it again when I am 65.”
In 1988, Thomas Gregory, (UK) 11 years, 11 months became the youngest. The youngest girl, in 1983, was Samantha Druce, (UK) 12 years, 118 days.) A minimum age of 16 years for solo swims has since been required.
1872 was the first attempt to swim the Channel by J. B. Johnson (of England). The attempt was abandoned after 1 hour 3 mins.
1875 British Navy Captain Matthew Webb of Shropshire, swam breaststroke to complete the 21.26 miles from Dover England to Gris Nez, France in 21 hours, 45 minutes. (On the way he sang, drank coffee and beer, ate steaks (or one source says beer, brandy and beef tea), was stung by a jellyfish and swam through a storm.) For the main part he swam breaststroke at 26 strokes per minute. Strong currents kept him off the French coast for 5 hours. At the finish an oversized row boat accompanied him on one side to keep the cresting waves from swamping him. He was met by a crowd of thousands.
This was his second attempt. The first time he stopped after over six hours when he had drifted 9 1/2 miles off-course. He died in 1883 attempting to swim whirlpool rapids across the Niagara river below Niagara Falls for a potential prize of £ 12,000.
Gertrude Caroline Ederle, an American, won three swimming medals in the 1924 Paris Olympics. Ederle’s career included 29 U.S. and World swimming records. At 19 years old, when she swam the English Channel (same route as Webb), in 14 hours, 31 minutes, two hours faster than the mens’ record, she became the first woman competing in a major sport to beat a man’s record.
The morning she started her swim the London Daily News ran an editorial: “Even the most uncompromising champion of the rights and capacities of women must admit that in contests of physical skill, speed and endurance they must remain forever the weaker sex.”
Ederle: “People said women couldn’t swim the Channel but I proved they could.” She got a ticker-tape parade in New York. She became partially deaf as a result of the swim.
There is an annual swim in her memory over the course she first swam from Manhattan to Sandy hook, N.J.
Alison Streeter, a currency trader from London, has swum the Channel 43 times, the first two days after her 18th birthday, including an over and back and a three way to France, back to England and back to France. in 1992 she swam it seven times in less than six months. She has only failed once. “It was my 31st attempt and the weather was really shitty, far too windy, really. I shouldn’t have gone, and had to give up. But in a way it was good not to complete it. I was getting far too confident after 30 crossings and here was the Channel smacking me in the face and saying ‘Have some respect’.” She is on call 24-7 as an expert Rand trader and her mother on the accompaning boat has taken work calls for her and they shout questions/answers across the water. “I always seem to pick a time when the markets are going crazy.”
Lynne Cox set a record for all age groups in 1972 when she swam the channel in 9 hours, 57 minutes. “At age 15 I had reached my highest goal in life.”
In her book “Swimming to Antarctica, Tales of a Long Distance Swimmer,” she writes of a moment at age 9 when she swam during a July hailstorm:
“My world was reduced to a blur of my arms stroking as a cold, driving rain began. The raindrops that hit my lips tasted sweet and cold, and I enjoyed the sensations of every new moment.”
Cox writes of an ocean swim a few years later: “The water was cold, salty, buoyant, smooth, and the deepest blue. And I swam as if I had learned to fly. I raced across the water. My strokes felt powerful, and I felt strong, alive, as if awakened for the first time. Nothing in the swimming pool gave me this pleasure. I was free, moving fast, feeling the waves lifting and embracing me, and I couldn’t believe how happy I was.”
Fastest butterfly swim was by Julia Bradshaw of the UK in 2002, at 14 hours, 18 minutes. Tina Neill of the USA swam backstroke in 2005 in 13 hours, 22 minutes.
August 24,1981 Charles ‘the tuna’ Chapman became the first African-American to swim the Channel, (in 13 hours and 30 minutes). The San Franciscan also swam from Alcatraz to Aquatic Park using only butterfly, swam around Alcatraz with fly and swam around Manhattan.
August 24, 2007 Petar Stoychev (Bulgaria) made the fastest crossing: six hours, 57 minutes. (His first crossing in 2006 took 7:21:08.
In 2007 there were 116 successful crossings, one taking 22 hours 25 minutes.
First person to drown while attempting the swim was Rodriquez de Lara in 1926. In 1954 Edward May set off without a pilot boat (and against official advice). His body was found weeks later on the Holland coast.
The fastest relay was the U.S. National team in 1990 in 6 hours, 52 minutes, in the first leg of their two way swim. Their total two way swim was also the fastest, 14 hours 18 minutes. The fastest Junior relay was Egyptian LDSF Juniors in 1999 in 7 hours, 43 minutes.
The Sport City Mexico relay team did a record four way in 2007 of 42 hours, 11 minutes.
(The width of the Channel is about the same as the length of Lake Tahoe.)
The CHANNEL SWIMMING & PILOTING FEDERATION website has the rules at:
“No person in a Standard attempt to swim the Channel shall use or be assisted by an artificial aid of any kind, but is permitted to grease the body before a swim, use goggles, wear one cap and one costume. The word “costume and cap” shall mean a garment, not made of neoprene or rubber or any other material considered by the Federation to give a similar type of advantage, and not in any way designed to contain body heat, and/or aid buoyancy. “
3. Stroke development
a. Breaststroke and sidestroke main strokes in 1800’s
Breaststroke was sometimes originally swum in competition underwater. USA Swimming
notes “Breaststrokers stayed underwater as long as possible, and some either passed out or finished races rather blue in the face.”
In 1895 J.H. Thayres (England) swam a record 1 minute, two and 50/100 seconds 100 yard swim using overarm sidestroke.
b. John Trudgen – England 1873 – trudgen crawl copied and adapted from South American
The trudgen crawl was a kind of freestyle arms with a scissors kick.
c. Richard Cavill – Australia 1902 – Australian Crawl copied and adapted from natives of
“The inefficiency of the early Trudgen kick led Australian Richard Cavill to try new methods. He
used a stroke he observed natives of the Solomon Islands using, which combined an up-and-down kick with an alternating over-arm stroke.” He used it in a 1902 competition to make a new world record of 100 yards in 58.4 seconds. In describing the new style, one of Cavill’s sons said it was “like crawling through the water,” and the name crawl, Australian crawl, or front crawl stuck.
When American swimmers and coaches further refined the stroke (ARCS&WS) “The success of their efforts was evident when, in 1906, C.M. Daniels became the first United States speed swimming champion of the world as he lowered the 100-yard record to 55.4. The Australian Crawl, with refinements, became known as the American Crawl.”
When Duke Paoa Kahanamoku of Hawaii (1890 – 1968), the father of surfing, inventor of the rescue board, six time Olympic gold medalist and winner of the Olympic 100 meter race in 1912 and 1920, using a six-beat kick, with his size 13 feet, was asked who
taught him the crawl stroke, he said “no one.” He had been swimming a stroke he saw older natives of his island swim. He kept his records until he was 34, when 20 year old Johnny Weissmuller (who eventually set 51 world records and became Tarzan of the movies) beat him in the 1924 Paris Olympics.
(ARCS&WS) “In 1927, Weissmuller swam 100 yards in 51 seconds flat in a 25-yard course, setting a record that was to remain unbroken for almost two decades. Weissmuller’s style featured a deeper kick that allowed the chest and shoulders to ride higher, a rotating of the head, for inhalation, that was independent of the action of the arms, and an underwater arm action in which the elbow was bent slightly for greater positive action.”
Olympic Coach Handley said of Weissmuller, he “was gifted with an extraordinary bouyancy. He swam so high in the water that his body showed above the surface almost to the waist.” Weismuller used bilateral breathing and swam all of 500 meters a day for training.
As a child, he and his brother swam a dangerous bouldered breakwater. “Swimming came naturally to us” he said, “and like all kids we yearned for adventure. If our mom had known, we’d have been lashed with a belt. It was dangerous, but it was exciting. Youngsters need excitement.”
While training for the 1932 Olympics, Weissmuller was offered a job ($500 a week) advertising swimsuits for BVD. When the photos were noticed in Hollywood, he was invited to try out for the Tarzan part, which he played in 11 films.
In 1959 his Tarzan beating-of-the-chest yell may have saved lives. In a car on the way to a celebrity golf tournament in then guerrilla war torn Havana, Weissmuller, friends and bodyguards were surrounded by some of Fidel Castro’s guerrillas, who disarmed the bodyguards and pointed rifles at the golfers. After Weissmuller had the sense to let them know who he was by standing tall, beating his chest and letting out with a huge yell, the rebels smiled and called out “Tarzan, Tarzan, Bienvenido!” (Welcome). After getting his autograph and much shaking of hands, they then escorted the golfers the rest of the way to the tournament.
Kahanamoku became the first person inducted into both the swimming and surfing halls of fame. In 1925 he rescued eight people from a overturned fishing boat, using only a surfboard. Of the 29 people on board the Thelma when it overturned in very rough seas, only 12 were rescued.
Later he said:
“In that instant my knees went to tallow, for a mountain of solid green water curled down upon the vessel. Spume geysered up in all directions, and everything was exploding water for longer than you would believe. Then, before the next mammoth breaker could blot out the view again, it was obvious that the Thelma had capsized and thrown her passengers into the boiling sea. Neither I nor my pals were thinking heroics; we were simply running — me with a board, and the others to get their boards — and hoping we could save lives… I hit the water hard and flat with all the forward thrust I could generate, for those bobbing heads in the water could not remain long above the surface of that churning surge. Fully clothed persons have little chance in a wild sea like that, and even the several who were clinging to the slick hull of the overturned boat could not last long under the pounding… It was some surf to try and push through! But I gave it all I had, paddling until my arms begged for mercy. I fought each towering breaker that threatened to heave me clear back onto the beach, and some of the combers almost creamed me for good… Don’t ask me how I made it, for it was just one long nightmare of trying to shove through what looked like a low Niagara Falls. The prospects for picking up victims looked impossible. Arm-weary, I got into that area of screaming, gagging victims, and began grabbing at frantic hands, thrashing legs.”
d. Backstroke 1912
e. Butterfly – 1934 arms, 1935 legs. Legal stroke in 1950’s.
David Armbruster, the coach at University of Iowa, tried a double overarm recovery out of the water for breastroke and this later became the butterfly arm pull. Swimmers in 1938, and for 20 years after, dominated breaststroke competitions with the butterfly arm action and a frog kick.
The next year the dolphin kick was invented. One of his swimmers, Jack Seig, (ARCS&D) “developed the skill of swimming on his side and beating his legs in unison like a fish’s tail. He then developed the leg action face downward.”
(One could make the argument that since fish move their tails sideways and mammals move their tails up and down behind them, that he was beating his legs in unison like a mammal’s tail.)
Armbruster and Seig combined the skills and figured out how to coordinate the legs and arms. Seig swam 100 yards of the new butterfly in 1:00:2.
In 1953 they became separate competitions.
4. Stroke mechanics
a. 1928 underwater film of swimmers – David Armbruster
b. 1932 Japanese dominate Olympics after using photo analysis of their swimmers – the
beginning of the study of stroke mechanics.
The Japanese won every swimming event except one in the 1832 Olympics.
c. 1956 Australians dominate swimming due to conditioning techniques.
d. Current research on hydrodynamics – Counsilman, Silvia, Maglischo.
Everything above this point is from the official curriculum for De Anza College swim classes, as originally written by a former dean. In an effort to have my swim classes have more time in the water, and less time listening to lectures, I wrote this webpage and have students read the history of swimming that is in the curriculum.
Who invented swimming?
Here’s one answer: the origin of swimming was when someone either got brave, took a risk or was lucky when they entered a body of water deeper than they were tall, and accidentally figured out how to move through the water instead of instinctively drowning.
Another answer is that a person or persons in antiquity watched aquatic animals and fishes and started getting ideas of how they might move through the water, then tried them out.
Specific strokes in swimming can be said to be invented by individual people, like David Armbruster and butterfly. Others took an existing stroke and improved on it, like Weissmuller or Handy.
2500 B.C. Archeologists have uncovered evidence that South Pacific Islanders taught their kids to swim as soon as they were able to walk.
500 B.C. The Greek Scyllis was taken prisoner aboard a ship of the Persian king Xerxes I. When he learned of a coming attack on a Greek flotilla, he stole a knife and jumped overboard and disappeared. That night he swam to all the ships in Xerxes’ fleet and using a snorkel made from a hollow reed to stay hidden in the water, cut each ship loose. Then he swam nine miles back to the Greek fleet.
478 B.C. Kungshu P’an of China made birdshaped kites, some of which could fly for days. Eventually kites would be used by surfers. See 1977 and early 1990’s.
a Greek coin dated A.D. 193 showed Leander swimming a hand-over-hand style crossing the Hellesport
Written in Old English in about 1100 AD, Beowulf describes the adventures of a great Scandinavian warrior of the sixth century. Roughly translated:”Are you that Beowulf who struggled with Brecca in the broad sea in a swimming contest? The one who, out of pride, risked his life in the deep water though both friends and enemies told you it was too dangerous?”
1300 Persian divers used underwater eye-goggles made from polished tortoise shells.
1679 When a slave ship wrecked off Martinique an African slave swam for 60 hours to finally reach shore.
1708 China’s Chinkiang Association for the Saving of Life was the earliest known organized lifesaving group.
At around age 10, in 1716, Benjamin Franklin may have invented swim fins and hand paddles. From his autobiography: “I learnt early to swim well. I made two oval Palettes, each about ten inches long and six abroad, with Hole for the Thumbs to hold them tightly in each hand, like Painter’s Palettes. In swimming I would hold them edgewise forward and on the flat Side to draw them back….They helped me swim much faster but fatigued my Wrist. I also fitted a sort of Sandals to the Soles of my Feet but found them unsatisfactory, observing that Motion required the inside of Feet and Ankles as well as Soles.” In 1968 Benjamin Franklin was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame.
1774 The Royal Humane Society founded to combat ignorance and superstition; investigate and discredit inadequate methods of resuscitating the apparently drowned.
Previous methods, not all of which were discredited, (some of which occasionally worked) included:
using bellows to put air into lungs,
rolling the drowned person on their front over a cask,
rubbing with coarse salt,
applying heat (sometimes in the form of hot coals),
tobacco smoke (or sage, rosemary, mint) forced up intestines,
ticking nostrils with a crow feather,
and suspension by the heels.
1778 Captain Cook reached Hawaii and described surfing in his journal: “Whenever, from stormy weather or any extraordinary swell at sea the impetuosity of the surf is increased to its utmost height, they choose that time for their amusement, which is performed in the following manner: twenty or thirty of the natives, taking each a long narrow board, rounded at the ends, set out together from shore, the first wave they meet, they plunge under, and suffering to roll over them, rise again beyond it, and make the best of their way by swimming, out to sea. The second wave is encountered in the same manner with the first; the great difficulty consisting in seizing the proper moment of dividing under it, which, if missed, the person is caught by the surf, and driven back again with great violence; and all his dexterity is then required to prevent himself from being dashed against the rocks. As soon as they have gained, by these repeated efforts, the smooth water beyond the surf, they lay themselves at length on their boards, and prepare for their return.
As the surf consists of a number of waves, of which every third is remarked to be always larger than the others, and to flow higher on the shore, the rest breaking in the immediate space, their first object is to place themselves on the summit of the largest surge, by which they are driven along with amazing rapidity toward the shore.”
Through to almost the end of the 18th century,
the Samurai of Japan fought wearing heavy armor, and needed to be able to cross and fight in Japan’s many lakes and streams. Feudal lords had swim training for troops in ponds: 1. suieijutsu (swimming) 2. oyogijutsu (swimming in armor) 3. katchu gozen oyogi (heavy armor) and on horseback in the water. A Samurai was able to swim almost 75 yards underwater on one breath.
1804 A lifebelt “the Seaman’s friend” invented by W. H. Mallison. It was rejected by the Royal Navy as it took up too much room and the navy did not want sailors to swim, in case they decided to desert.
1825-1829 was the term of John Quincy Adams as president of the United States. He was known to take pre-dawn walks from the White House to the Potomac River and if the weather was good enough, take off his clothes and swim in the river. Supposedly one morninga female reporter named Anne Royall, who had been refused an interview, sat on Adams’ clothes until he agreed to be interviewed.
1827 Francis Lieber established the first swim school in America
1837 swimming competitions organized by the National Swimming Society were being held in London’s six artificial pools.
1838 this description of how to sew a bathing suit was published in England:
“Bathing gowns are made of blue and white flannel, stuff, calimanco, or blue linen. As it is especially desirable that the water should have free access to the person, and yet that the dress should not cling to, or weigh down the bather, stuff or calimanco are preferred to most other materials: the dark coloured gowns are the best for several reasons, but chiefly because they do not shew the figure, and make the bather less conspicuous than she would be in a white dress. As the width of the materials, of which a bathing gown is made, varies, it is impossible to say of how many breadths it should consist. The width at the bottom, when the gown is doubled, should be about 15 nails: fold it like a pinafore, slope 3 1/2 nails for the shoulders, cut or open slits of 3 1/2 nails long for the arm-holes; set in plain sleeves 4 1/2 nails long, 3 1/2 nails wide, and make a slit in the front 5 nails long. In making up, delicacy is the great object to be attended to. Hem the gown at the bottom, gather it into a band at the top, and run in strings; hem the opening and the bottom of the sleeves, and put in strings. A broad band should be sewed in about half a yard from the top, to button round the waist.”
A nail (a measure for cloth) was 2 1/4 inches.
Weights were often sewn into the hem to keep the skirt from lifting up in the water and exposing legs.
1843 first known book on diving published in Germany
1844 Maidstone, (Great Britain) swim club formed, swimming at 6 a.m. from a river raft.
1852 The first intercollegiate sporting event was a two-mile crew race won by Harvard over Yale, in part because they added some men who were not enrolled in the college.
Congress passed a law that lifejackets, or a float or lifepreserver be required on river passenger steamboats for each passenger.
1855 According to the http://www.acmuseum.org/beach.html site, the Atlantic City, New Jersey, city council “appointed William S. Cazier the first constable of the surf.” In those early years the constables donned bathing suits between the hours of eleven and one to be ready to respond to any emergency. With the opening of the Boardwalk in 1872, the first organized volunteer lifeguard service was formed. These brave souls had to pass the hat after each rescue. Not until 1892, did Atlantic City organize a paid beach patrol.”
But the Atlantic City, New Jersey beach patrol says they are the oldest beach patrol in the U.S. and date their start in 1884.
Their site has old beach patrol postcards at:
A Handbook of Swimming and Skating, published in London in 1858, described the forerunner of the flutter kick, with gentle fluttering straight leg movements designed to enable swimmers to extract themselves from water weeds.
Around 1863 on the River Dee in Aberdeen, Scotland they may have been playing the first water polo. Another source points to players sitting on barrels and hitting the ball with kayak paddles or mallet-like sticks, similar to those used in equestrian polo, as a sport to attract guests to British resorts in the 1870s.
Modern water polo is technically, but not in reality, a non-contact sport, but in the olden days players sometimes held opponents underwater until they passed out. The opposition goalkeeper was allowed to stand on the edge of the pool and may have dive-bombed opposing players as they tried to score.
It became so dangerous that it was banned from US intercollegiate competition for awhile.
R. Brasch writes “The game’s very nature gave much room for foul play. After all, a referee could not well observe what was going on under water, and players often took advantage of his restricted view. Water polo thus became one of the roughest and crudest of sports, marred by wholly unsporting tactics. In the beginning, of course, there were no rules at all. All that mattered was the scoring of a goal, by fair means or foul.
To wrest the ball from a swimmer who was making for the goal, players sometimes did not hesitate to apply what was described without much exaggeration, as drowning tactics. They held the man in possession in a tight grip under the water until he let go the ball. Again, players were often dunked at the outset for a considerable time in order to weaken them. Water polo frequently deteriorated into a wrestling match, with the more ruthless team, not the more capable, winning.”
The popular technique of ducking under the water with the ball and swimming underwater to surface elsewhere was eventually banned.
1865 Vassar College opens. The School of Physical Training has classes in swimming, boating, horseback riding, gardening, skating and “other physical accomplishments suitable for ladies to acquire … bodily strength and grace.”
1867, Charles Steedman wrote the first swim training manual, with advice that included taking an emetic, meals such as a snack of “a glass of old ale or sherry and a hard biscuit,” or dinner of “rump steak or mutton chop or a slice or two from a joint of beef or mutton, underdone, free from fat; stale bread, one or two mealy potatoes and a little greens; no pastry or cheese.”
By 1869 the water polo ball usually made from a pig’s stomach was being replaced by an Indian rubber ball.
1870 the British Metropolitan Swimming Association drew up rules for ‘management of the Games of Football in the Water’ (water polo)
1871 written reports of divers plunging from London Bridge.
1873 – A silk dress is the prize for a mile swim race in the Harlem River in which ten women compete.
1877 A ‘lifejacket’ made of cork is awarded a patent
1879-81 Bavarian King Ludwig II adds electricity to an artificial lake at his castle so that the water can be
heated, lighted with various colors and made to create waves. The first wave pool.
1880 Agnes Beckwith (Britain) treads water for 30 hours in the whale tank of the Royal Aquarium of Westminster to equal a time by Matthew Webb. As a teenager, (in 1875) she had swum six miles in the Thames River from London Bridge to Greenwich.
1881 Edith Johnson of England sets a world endurance indoor swimming record (31 hours). This record will hold until 1928.
From a speech by Captain Timothy M. Johnson, PE, Assistant Professor, Wentworth Institute of Technology and author of the History of Open-Water Marathon Swimming:
“In 1882, a half-mile contest was held down the Harlem River for the New York Athletic Club championship. Edward A. Cone won the race even though he had a distinct disadvantage for he had only one arm. The swimmers all swam sidestroke. His opponent in this race was given a 3½-minute head start but was overtaken by Mr. Cone who finished in a time of 14 minutes and 45 seconds. Mr. Cone was such an imposing swimmer that two days later at the 100 yards NYAC club championship across the Harlem River all nine contestants were given head starts ranging from 3 to 11 seconds. He won the event with a time of one minute and 45 seconds. A one-armed swimmer was the NYAC club champion for both sprint and distance races!
So how was Ed Cone able to beat the other swimmers? If the able-bodied swimmers devoted a good portion of their stroke to keeping their head above water, they are losing swimming efficiency. Edward Cone was used to being submerged and as a result had to develop a kick to bring his head above the water as well as propel himself forward. Since the time his head was above water was most likely limited, he was probably exhaling underwater. For this era of swim stroke development, this was the secret for swimming speed: you put your head in the water, exhale, and kicked to swim faster. As simple as this sounds to us today, it worked magic for Edward Cone. The following year, his name wasn’t mentioned which meant only one thing: the other swimmers got tired of being beaten and adapted their strokes. The year 1882 was the year American swimmers learned from the disabled.”
1887 first U.S. municipal swimming pool, in Brookline, Mass.
1891 two members of the Amateur Swimming Association of Great Britain formed the Swimmers Life-Saving Society, later to become the Royal Life Saving Society.
1893 First diving stage in England built at Highgate Pumps
1896 The Sutro baths in San Francisco had one freshwater pool, five saltwater pools heated to various
temperatures and a huge saltwater pool at normal ocean temperature.
According to the National Park Service website:
“A classic Greek portal opened to a massive glass enclosure containing seven swimming pools of various temperatures. There were slides, trapezes, springboards and a high dive. Together the pools held 1.7 million gallons of water and could be filled in one hour by high tides. There were 20,000 bathing suits and 40,000 towels for rent. Balmy temperatures and abundant plants enhanced “California’s Tropical Winter Garden.” The Baths could accommodate 10,000 people at one time.”
Another source notes that the rental swimsuits were wool.
A Museum of San Francisco page has a 1912 PG&E Magazine article with more pictures at:
“Toboggan slides in baths, 7. Swinging rings, 30. Private dressing rooms, 517.”
Swimming in the April 1896 Olympics games had no pool. Nine swimmers were taken by boat out into an ice cold (13 C, 55 F) bay, the approximate distance, left by themselves and swam in with their fastest stroke. Alfred Hajos, the winner of the 1,200 m race, said “The icy water almost cut into our stomachs…I must say that I shivered from the thought of what would happen if I got a cramp from the cold water. My will to live completely overcame my desire to win. I cut through the water with a powerful determination and only became calm when the boats came back in my direction and began to fish out the numbed competitors who were giving up the struggle.” He had learned to swim at age 13 after his father drowned in the Danube River.
In 1896 the Biltmore estate had an indoor pool.
1897 the first rescue can, made of sheet metal and pointed at both ends with an over-the-shoulder harness, replaces life rings towed by lifeguards. It slides faster through the water but the type of construction causes injuries.
Harold Reeder of New York formulated the first American rules for water polo, which were aimed at decreasing the excessive roughness of the game.
In 1900, water polo is first introduced in the Paris Olympic games. In 1904 other countries refuse to play with the soft, underinflated ball used in American competitions, so the USA wins gold, silver and bronze as the only country to enter teams.
Also in 1900, one swim event was a 200 meter swimming obstacle course started by climbing over a pole and climbing over and swimming under rows of boats.
An underwater swim event was scored 2 points for every one meter swam and one point for every second underwater. The French winner Charles de Vendeville had a 60 meter swim in 1 minute, 8.4 seconds. Denmark’s Peder Lykkeberg stayed underwater for a longer period, one and a half minutes, but only swam 28.5 meters. I don’t know if the event was held in a short course or long course type pool, and whether turns, if there were any, were counted in the distance.
1901 first diving organization, the Amateur Diving Association, stimulated by Swedish divers visiting Great Britain and giving exhibitions.
1903 Coney Island Polar Bear Club takes its first swim in the Atlantic (every Sunday from November through April). According to a Newsday article, “The Coney Island Polar Bear Club was founded in 1903 by Bernarr MacFadden, a flamboyant entrepreneur who became well-known for railing against prudery and promoting the virtues of bodybuilding and physical fitness, especially among women.” In 2003 they marked the 100th anniversary.
Read more at:
In 1904 when men’s diving became an Olympic event, it was called fancy diving. American Jim Sheldon won gold in 1 and 3 meter.
In the a plunge for distance the diver who went the farthest underwater after a dive won. It started with a standing dive, and the diver remained motionless for 60 seconds or until heads came up to the surface. William Dickey of the United States won with a plunge of 19.05 meters. This glide for distance was boring to observers and was canceled.
Swim races started on a raft in an artificial lake that many suspected was filled with typhoid fever. Dr. Ecrenciezo wrote “a makeshift raft was used as a starting platform but it could not bear the weight of six to eight men and sank so deep competitors stood in water up to their ankles. The raft slid back in the movement of the plunge and the competitors practically fell flat.”
1906 H. Jamison “Jam” Handy experiments with putting his face in the water and invents modern freestyle breathing, according to the International Swimming Hall of Fame:
“Handy is responsible for modern freestyle breathing, and the body position made possible by modern breathing. He invented the legless crawl for distance swimmers, the 2 or 4 beat “pause that refreshes” for middle distance, and lines on the bottom of the pool for sprinters to keep their heads down and see where they are going. He was the first swimmer to use the alternating arm stroke in backstroke and the first swimmer to narrow the kick and change the timing in breaststroke.
Handy won national championships in all 3 strokes before 1907 and then came on much later as a pioneer in using film for underwater stroke correction and technique analysis. He made two Olympic teams 20 years apart, 1904 (swimming) and 1924 (water polo), yet by his own admission, had very little talent. “My records didn’t last long,” he says, “because I had to win each time with some new invention. As soon as those bigger and faster fish got on to the change, I had to be satisfied with second place or try something else.”
He developed his new ideas while practicing at 3 a.m. after work. He could work in secret and may have even drained the pool to paint a line on the bottom before a big event.
Clarence Pinkston of the Detroit Athletic Club said that in preparing for a race against a famous competitor:
“It was then that Jam used his genius for analysis to figure out a method that would make the current crawl stroke more efficient. At that time the champs breathed by holding their heads up facing straight forward — a few swung their heads back and forth, from side to side. Jam worked for secret for six months on his idea of exhaling under water as the head was turned to the side for a breath coordinated with the arm pull. When he faced Daniels for the 1906 National AAU 800 championship, no one anyplace in the world had seen the crawl stroke as we all know it now, and Mr. Daniels saw very little of Jam Handy as he walked away with the championship easily. Within a year every top notch swimmer in the country copied Jam’s revolutionary idea.”
He had wanted to be on the University of Michigan football team. But he was 4 foot, 11 inches tall and weighed 86 pounds, so the coach offered him the position of team mascot.
Handy said: “My family looked down on any physical activity, thought a writer had no right to health. My grandparents died in their 40s.”
“I studied foods. I heard about Johns Hopkins Hospital’s experiment with vitamins. This was five years before the medical journals began to have stories about the benefit of vitamins. I ate only fresh natural foods, from the top to the bottom. I had a motto. ‘Leaves to fruits, seeds to roots.'”
1907 Annette Kellerman was arrested at a public beach in Boston for indecent exposure – she was wearing a one-piece bathing suit, with no skirt or pantaloons. A childhood rickets illness had left her barely able to walk and she wore leg braces until she was seven. To gain strenght she swam and soon won swimming competitions in Australia and was the women’s 100 meters world record holder when she was 16. In 1905, she swam 42 kilometres down the Thames in five hours. In Paris she raced against 17 men down the Seine, finishing third. She was the first woman to ever try swimming the English Channel. When she moved to the US she performed diving in circus-like shows and performed underwater ballet in a giant glass tank on a stage. One reviewer said “For 25 years she travelled the world with her aquatic ballet shows, pioneering synchronised swimming and anticipating the spectacular routines usually identified with Busby Berkeley.”
There is a picture of Annette at:
1907: Matsudaira, a Japanese historian, described a Samuria competition of hand-to-hand fighting in armor in deep water in a river or the ocean.
In the London 1908 games men’s platform diving started.
In the original platform diving, the Americans judged that the way you enter the water was important, but the Germans, also in the top medaling, tried more difficult dives but tended as a result to have more belly flops. When you dive from a ten meter platform you attain a speed of around 35 MPH when you enter the water.
Arno Bieberstein of Germany won gold in backstroke, the last won using an inverted breaststroke (on his back) instead of the backstroke with a flutter kick and overarm pull used today.
A report following the 1908 games suggested that the double somersault in dives was too dangerous as it could not be controlled by divers and should be discontinued.
In 1911 at the Festival of Empire in London, (the forerunner of the Commonwealth Games) Australia’s Harold Hardwick won the 100 yards freestyle (1 minute 0.6 seconds) and the heavyweight boxing title.
From 1911 to 2001, the Boy Scouts awarded approximately 5.3 million merit badges in swimming and 2.7 million in lifesaving.
1912 At the age of seven, LeRoy Columbo suffered an attack of spinal meningitis which cost him his hearing and the use of both legs. He tried swimming (and his three brothers worked with him) and within a year he was able to walk again.
He eventually became the first deaf lifeguard as well as earning the title “the World’s Greatest Lifeguard.” He saved 907 lives in a 40 year career, a record noted in the Guinness Book of World Records.
In 1923 he became the first deaf person to join Galveston’s elite “Surf Toboggan Club.” He qualified by swimming continuously for three hours with no stops or floating. And in 1923 he became a lifeguard for the city of Galveston.
LeRoy made his first rescue (of a drowning boy) at the age of 12. In 1928 he rescued two crewmen after a tugboat exploded in flames (this required swimming beneath burning oil).
LeRoy almost drowned 16 times during rescues.
He retired at 62 and continued to swim in the ocean daily until he died on July 12, 1974. Flags in Texas were flown at half staff upon his death and a plaque erected on the Galveston beach he patrolled for forty years.
Women’s diving joined the Olympic program in 1912
April, 1912, the Titanic was one of the first ships with an onboard swimming pool.
1913 Jantzen, a sweater company, “made a swimsuit out of a wool sweater cuff and created the first elasticized swimsuit” said recent Jantzen Vice President Roger Yost.
1914 Former journalist Wilbert E Longfellow helped start Red Cross water safety instruction and the Red Cross Life Saving Corps to combat the climbing number of drownings.
1916 requirements for lifesavers:
“must be able to tow a person of their own weight ten yards by each of the following methods: (a) head carry, using two arms and swimming on back; (b) under-arm carry, using two hands and swimming on back; (c) cross-chest carry, using one arm and side stroke; (d) using breastroke, hands of rescued on shoulders.
They must be able to show in the water three methods of releasing themselves from people in peril of drowning when grasped by: (a) wrist hold), (b) front neck hold, (c) back hold.”
They are required to demonstrate both the Schafer and Silvester methods of performing artificial respiration, although the Schafer method is the one preferred. (No mouth to mouth contact in rescue breathing. In one style, people were put on their stomachs and their arms were raised overhead or their shoulders pulled up to get air into the lungs.)
from the CDC National Center for Injury Prevention and Control:
“In 1918, 13 people drowned in rip currents in a single day at San Diego’s Ocean Beach, garnering local and national news attention. Beach attendance that day was estimated at 5,000. City officials cited inadequate lifeguard protection as a cause of the tragedy, and as a result, initiated a municipal lifeguard service. The ocean conditions have changed little since then. San Diego’s local leaders view the 17 miles of oceanfront shoreline, which include Ocean Beach, as a safely managed tourist attraction due to the presence of lifeguards. Despite an average estimated annual attendance of 15 million people and over 7,000 rescues at the major lifeguarded beaches, the average number of drownings in areas under lifeguard protection is between zero and one annually.”
The 1920 Olympics were the first in which American women competed in swimming, sweeping all events. Ethelda Bliebtrey won 100 and 300M Free, wearing a thin one piece tank swim suit with material that covered the very tops of her thighs, but without the usual ‘modesty skirt’ or any foundation garments.
Hungarians dominated water polo in the 1920 Olympics when they started passing the ball in the air.
The early 1920s is the beginning of beach volleyball.
“Most accounts place the sport’s origin in Santa Monica, California, where the first Volleyball courts were put up on the beach at the Playground. Families played 6 vs. 6.”
Read more about beach volleyball history at:
1922 American Sybil Bauer becomes the first woman to break an existing men’s swimming world record. Her 440 yard backstroke in 6:24.8 is four seconds faster. She set 23 world records in six years of competitive swimming and died at age 23 of cancer.
June 28, 1922 teenager Ralph Samuelson tried using barrel staves, such as the ones he and friends used to slide down snow banks, to water ski. A few days later on July 2 he figured out that if he leaned back and got the tips out of the water it would really work.
1924 American women Olympic swimmers are kept away from the immorality of Paris and made to spend 5 to 6 hours a day commuting to and from the events.
John Weissmuller breaks one minute in the 100 meter freestyle with 59 seconds.
previous records in the men’s 100 M free were:
1896 Alfred Hajos, Hun 1:22.2 (First Olympic men’s swimming gold medal).
1904 Zoltan von Halmay, Hun 1:02.8
1906 Charles Daniels, USA 1:05.6
1920 Duke Kahanamoku, USA 1:01.4
Clarence Ross started in high school and had national records from 1925-1926 (3 miles, 5 miles) as well as masters swim records later in his career of 123 wins in 125 races.
Late in his career he was mugged one night in Newark, New Jersey. The doctors at the hospital checked his heart rate, decided it was too low and put in a pacemaker. When he came to he explained to the doctors that his athletic resting heart rate was 42, but the pacemaker was already in.
1930s – Early 1930s: Guy Gilpatrick, an American writer living in France, waterproofs a pair of pilot’s goggles for skin diving by applying window putty to the edges.
1930’s muscle beach: Did Paula Boelsems really teach an elephant how to water-ski?
In 1930 pools began to be heated
In the 1930’s Guy Gilpatrick (France) waterproofs a pair of aviation googles for skin diving
In the 1930’s French chemist Eugene Schueller formulated and manufactured the first suntan lotion. He started in 1907 by inventing a hair dye he named Aureole. L’Oreal eventually became the world’s biggest cosmetics company.
His original sun lotion was not as good at preventing the ill effects of sun exposure as today’s products. But most people do not use sunscreen properly.
The American Cancer Society has skin cancer prevention info at:
1932 At the Los Angeles Olympics American Helene Madison becomes the first woman to swim the 100 yard (meter?) freestyle in a minute despite bumping into a lane line.
During a 16½ month period in 1930-31, she had broken all 16 freestyle world records for the distances between 100 yards and one mile. At the Olympics, she did badly in the 100m semifinals and only qualified for the final because she was in the weaker heat. Four days later she anchored the U.S. 4x100m freestyle relay which beat the world record by 9½ seconds. The next day, she won a third gold medal in 400m freestyle, just barely touching the wall first ahead of a US teammate. That night she celebrated by dancing at the Coconut Grove with Clark Gable.
According to a Saturday Evening Post Article,
(Larry) “Buster Crabbe won the 400 meters at the 1932 Olympics and held 15 world records before he became the hero of those Saturday-morning movie serials where Flash Gordon battled the evil forces of Ming. As each week’s episode ended, all would appear hopeless for Flash as he hung from a cliff or otherwise defied death. Somehow, at the first of next week’s show, he would find a way to escape. Steven Spielberg is said to have patterned his Indiana Jones’ near-death and rescue scenarios in Raiders of the Lost Ark after those weekly Saturday thrillers.” He also was in over 102 movies, many of them westerns and was a NAUI instructor.
1933 Fins “Lifesaving and Swimming Propelling Device” patented by Louis de Corlieu.
February 4, 1934
Willy den Ouden of Holland was the first woman to swim the 100 meter freestyle in under a minute: 59.8.
Josephine McKim, who won a bronze medal, 400 free 1928 Olympics and gold medal 4×100 free relay 1932 Olympics, was the body double for Maureen O’Sullivan in the 1934 movie, Tarzan and His Mate, when Jane swam underwater nude (back view) with Tarzan (Johnny Weismuller) playfully swimming after her. O’Sullivan later said, about the skimpy costumes she wore in the movie, “I was offered all kinds of places I could go in my shame to hide from the cruel public. It’s funny, you know. We were unreal people and yet we were real.”
1935 men’s topless swimsuits are worn for the first time in the US.
Santa Monica, California, lifeguard Pete Peterson builds an inflatable yellow rescue tube with a snap hook at one end and a 14 inch strap, line and harness at the other end. He also created paddle boards for lifeguards and was the first person to paddle from Catalina to the mainland. He won the Pacific Coast Surfing Championship 4 times out of ten.
read more about Pete Peterson at:
Pedro A. Candiotti of Argentina swims the 281 mile Parana River.
At the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Velma Dunn Ploessel won a silver medal in platform diving at the age of 17, only three tenths of a point behind the first place finisher, her teammate who was competing in her third Olympics. Later, at the end of her first week at the University of Southern California, as a physical education major, the head of the PE Department called her in and told her she should not be participating in competitive sports. “She said that she hoped I wasn’t going to continue my competition, because it wasn’t ladylike…That’s the first time I had ever thought of diving as not being ladylike… I didn’t dive for two years.” (Her mother had insisted that she learn to swim, but she found lap swimming boring, so she took up diving.) She participated in the torch relay in the 1996, 2000 and 2002 Olympic games.
The 1938 American Red Cross Swimming and Diving text said about the new butterfly: “As the stroke has developed it appears to require more than the usual amount of flexibility in the shoulder-joint and strength. In its present state its requirements may seem to be too exacting to permit its use over any but distances up to two hundred and twenty yards but as the true crawl was developed out of a crude method of whacking away at the water, also this stroke may be the forerunner of an improved style of swimming of great usefulness.”
Blackie the horse had been trained along the San Francisco bay sand dunes where he would run along the beach, then run into the water and swim. His owner was socializing with the manager of Bay Meadows race track and told him that he had a horse that could swim and after a few cocktails a bet was made. Blackie swam across San Francisco bay and won his owner $1,000. It took him 23 minutes and fifteen seconds. Olympic swimmer Buster Olds raced against Blackie that day and took about an hour to complete the swim.
1939 The first synchronized swimming competition in the United States is a dual meet between Wright Junior College and the Chicago Teacher’s College.
Eleanor Holm performed at the World’s Fair in New York, helping popularize synchronized swimming nationwide.
She won a gold medal in 100m backstroke at 1932 Olympics. She was thrown off the 1936 U.S. Olympic team for drinking champagne in public, yelling obscenities out of her cabin porthole and shooting craps on the nine day boat ride to Germany. She didn’t deny the charges and boasted that she had “won a couple of hundred dollars.”
1940 John V. Sigmund completes a 292 mile swim of the Mississippi River in 89 hours and 42 minutes, the longest officially recorded swim.
1940 the Olympics to be in Finland were cancelled due to World War II. Movie star and 100 meter breastroke record holder Esther Williams was to have competed. Many of her movies (Bathing Beauty 1944, Thrill of a Romance 1945, Easy to Wed 1946, Hoodlum Saint 1946, Fiesta 1947, On an Island With You 1948, Take Me out to the Ball Game 1949, Neptune’s Daughter 1949, The Dutchess of Idaho 1950, Pagan Love Song 1950, Skirts Ahoy 1952,
Million Dollar Mermaid 1952 and Easy To Love 1953) featured her wet.
1941 Synchronized swimming becomes an official competitive sport for duet and team events for the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU). First Synchronized Swimming Championship is held in Wilmette, IL.
August 15, 1942 Chosen Navy and Army personnel met at Amphibious Training Base, Little Creek to begin Amphibious Scouts and Raiders (Joint) training. They became a World War II beach reconnaissance force that, along with Naval Combat Demolition Units, Office of Strategic Services Operational Swimmers, Underwater Demolition Teams, and Motor Torpedo Boat Squadrons of World War II, would be the origin of the Navy Seals.
read more at:
1943 As a part of wartime rationing, the US ordered 10% less fabric used in women’s swimwear. So designers removed the skirts and midriffs were exposed: the first two piece swim suits by government decree.
August 2, 1943 at about 2 a.m. the Japanese destroyer Amagiri hit PT 109 and killed two of
John F. Kennedy’s crew. He helped rescue his crew members and by dawn they were floating on the bow.
That day they swam and helped each other swim to an island. Kennedy helped the man most injured, towing the sailor’s life vest with his teeth.
He had been on the first Harvard swim team to beat Yale. The Harvard Guide says “Too small to play intercollegiate football, he joined the swim team. He’s remembered by the coach as “a fine kid, frail and not too strong, but always giving it everything he had.”
1943 French engineer Emile Gagnan and Jacques-Yves Cousteau invent the aqualung. It allowed divers to stay underwater independently for several hours. It remained a secret until the south of France was liberated.
1946 Was the bikini invented in Paris in 1946 by Jacques Heim or Louis Reard?
Louis Reard was an engineer who was running his mother’s lingerie business. He designed a two-peice swim suit, named it the bikini, and on July 5 he showed it to the public. But earlier Jacques Heim, a couturier designer from Cannes, had designed “the world’s smallest bathing suit.” But he named it the Atome (French for atom).
No model would wear Reard’s tiny swimsuit on the runway, so he hired a nude dancer from the Casino de Paris, Micheline Bernardini, for the job.
This original bikini was banned in Catholic countries like Spain, Italy and Portugal.
But was that the true original? Villa Romana del Casale, a luxurious Roman villa from around 320 AD has mosaics of girls in slim two piece outfits:
In 1947 the U.S. drowning rate (5.2 per 100,000 people) was cut in half from that of 1914 (10.4 per 100,000 people).
1948 Sammy Lee was the first Asian American to win gold for the U.S. (gold in 1948 and 1952) and the first male diver to win two gold medals in platform diving. The small, extra absorbent towel divers use, the sammy, is named for him.
1950 Florence Chadwick, 31, swims the English Channel, beating the record set by Gertrude Ederle in 1926. She broke records set by male swimmers in two long distance swims: 1952 as the first woman to swim the Catalina Channel – 21 mile swim from Catalina Island to Palos Verdes, CA, (13 hours, 47 minutes, 32 seconds) breaking a record that had been set in 1927, and a 1953 Straits of Gibraltar swim in a record 5 hours and 6 minutes. She also swam the Bosporus and Dardanelles Straits that year.
At the age of 10 she was the first child to swim the six mile San Diego Bay course through rough waters.
In 1951, Pennsylvania law said that blacks had the right to use any public recreation facility. But three Pittsburg swimming pools were not integrated. When the Reverend LeRoy Patrick organized an interracial youth swim at Highland Park pool, all the white pool patrons got out of the pool.
Pastor Patrick and the Pittsburgh Urban League staged protests at city pools and were met with anger. So many rocks were thrown at one pool that the city had to drain the pool. Pittsburg opened all public pools to all races the next summer.
The Youngstown, Ohio, Little League baseball team that had won the championship went to celebrate at the city pool. All the coaches, players, and relatives were admitted except the one black player who had to sit outside the fence.
A lifeguard told a coach: “Negroes are not permitted in the pool area.” Parents asked the supervisor to allow the team member to join his teammates in the pool and after about an hour, the supervisor said the boy could get “in“ the pool, but only floating on a rubber raft and only when the pool had been cleared of the white swimmers. A lifeguard pushed him in around the pool on the raft, reminding him: “Just don’t touch the water … whatever you do, don’t touch the water.”
Pat McCormick becomes the first diver to win all five national championships. At the Helsinki Summer Games she won a gold in springboard diving and a gold in platform diving. In 1956 she completed the double-double or two diving gold medals in two Olympic Games. Some of the dives she attempted had previously been outlawed for women as too dangerous. A doctor who examined her remarked of the cracked bones she had accumulated from diving a hundred practices a day “I’ve seen worse casualty cases, but only where a building caved in.”
1952 Austraian champion Jon Hendricks wore a silk swimsuit to cut down on drag.
Surfer Jack O’Neill opens his first surf shop and sells vests he made from gluing together pieces of neoprene: the the first wetsuits?
Springboard divers at the Olympics had to deal with the distraction of a photographer in the pool.
1953 Or did twins Bob and Bill Meistrell invent the wetsuit first? Did they really use insulation from the back of a fridge? They originally named it the Thermocline, but an ad man decided they needed a better name, asked them what was special about it and they said “it fits like a glove”, thus the new name Bodyglove. When they first sold their custom-made surfer wetsuits, “everyone laughed at us. But we were constantly promoting just by jumping around in our wetsuits.”
From 1953 to 1972 the world champion marathon swimmer was Abdellatief Abouheif of Egypt‘s team, the “Nile Crocodiles.”
He competed in over 68 international races in lengths of 30 to 80 kilometers. His longest distance swim was 60 miles on Lake Michigan in 34 hours, 45 minutes in 52 degree F. water for a prize of $15,000.
As a child he saw a film with Johnny Weissmuller and decided to emulate him. He won his first cup as champion for Alexandria at age nine.
“It is not easy to be a champion – there are no tricks and no particular gifts for becoming number one. It is just a matter of training and then more training, to the limits of human endurance. In fact it is a matter of will power.”
1954 First person to swim across Lake Ontario. (20 hours 55 minutes) was Canadian Marilyn Bell at age 16.
Read more at:
1954 the first scuba certification course in the U.S. is offered by the Los Anegels County Department of Parks and Recreation
In the mid-1950s, the first pace clock was desgined by coach Doc Counsilman, who attached a timing motor to a 15-inch clock face.
1955 Bill Beer and John Daggett, two skilled surfers recently out of the military, swim 280 miles of the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon.
From a review of the book about their swim in Publishers Weekly:
“April 10, 1955: the water temperature was 51F, and a fierce wind buffeted two men as they entered the Colorado River at Lees Ferry. The author and John Daggett had set out to swim the river through the Grand Canyon. At a time when fewer than 200 people had run the river in boats, this was daredeviltry and illegal. Their equipment was primitive: Army-surplus rubber boxes to carry gear, thin rubber shirts, woollen long johns and swim fins; they also took a movie camera to record the adventure. Twenty-six days and 280 miles later, bruised and battered, they left the river at Pierce Ferry.”
From the book:
“And so it was that one rainy January day in 1955 we were in our apartment spinning fantasies – this time about rivers and rapids and their legendary dangers… John declared that we could swim the Colorado, the biggest and toughest of the U.S. rivers… the room was suddenly silent. The idea lay there glowing, and pulsing, and hypnotizing us with it’s possibilities.”
” I yelled at him several times and was nearly waterborne when I heard him answer – weakly and unintelligibly. I paused. He was alive and conscious – and maybe all right. He was caught in a little eddy, but didn’t seem to be making any effort to get free of it. It was such a small eddy that there didn’t seem to be any reason for him to be stuck in it. Then I noticed that his face looked very dark, sort of muddy.”
The book: We Swan the Grand Canyon. The True Story of a Cheap Vacation that Got a Little Out of Hand, is out of print, but most public libraries that do not have it on their shelves can order it for a library patron (probably for a small fee) from a library that does.
A 1956 printing of American Red Cross Life Saving and Water Safety says, in part:
“Grappling irons should be considered not only as body recovery but as rescue devices, since the first few casts of the irons may bring a victim to the surface in water too deep for diving and in time to use artificial respiration successfully.”
200,000 Soviet troups had invaded Hungary just a month before an Olympic waterpolo match between the two countries. The match, called when Hungary had 4 points over the Russian’s 0, was described as “an underwater boxing match.”
From a magazine account:
“The match grew ugly when 21 year-old Hungarian star Ervin Zádor was pulled bleeding from the pool after a hard head butt. The image of Zádor leaving the pool with blood pouring from the deep gash over his left eye was published in newspapers worldwide.”
Police were called in to prevent rioting among the spectators.
Hungary won the gold medal, but more than half of the team defected.
Australians shaved their bodies in the 1956 Olympics.
1957: University of Michigan varsity dual meets are the first to regularly use touch pads for electronic timing of swim meets.
Bill Parkinson, the inventor, a physics professor at the U of Michigan, describes what he needed to do to design the plates:
“What you needed at the end of the pool was an insulated switch, (pool water has very high conductivity), which the swimmer would close when he touched the pad. It had to be very sensitive, so that a swimmer could come in and make a very light brush on it and still close the switch. At the same time, it couldn’t respond to splashes and waves. It also had to be sensitive above and below water and across the width of the lane. That was the key to the whole thing, making those plates that would respond.”
His wife, Martha, sewed copper wire in a zigzag pattern into a rubber mat, which he mounted on an aluminum plate. Eventually the pad was filled with DC-200 silicone oil. Parkinson noted “DC-200 has excellent insulating properties; it doesn’t interact with the rubber, and its density is slightly less than that of water, which allows the top portion of the plate to be above the surface of the pool… It was solving the contact plate problem that prevented such a system from being developed much earlier. Once you have the plate, the electronics is trivial, it really is.”
1957–1961 TV show Sea Hunt and star Lloyd Bridges introduce scuba to millions of Americans.
1958 Mihir Sen of India (1920-1997) was the first Asian man to swim the English Channel (14 hours, 45 minutes). Until he was twenty years old he had only swum dog-paddle.
1959 Arati Saha of India (1937-1994) becomes the first Asian woman to swim the English Channel (16 hours, 20 minutes).
1959 Dolores E. Fisher stayed submerged for 54 hours and 37 minutes to beat the World’s Underwater Endurance Record.
In 1960 the Royal Lifesaving Society is the first to teach mouth-to-mouth, direct contact resuscitation instead of methods which use back pressure or arm lifts. A Norwegian toymaker produces the first manikin for teaching mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
July 23, 1960 the song Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini is released and goes to the top of the charts. It is credited with helping make the bikini acceptable in mainstream society.
All swim meets today are held in pools with lane lines. In 1961 at the Indoor Nationals at Yale, the 1500M freestyle final was one of the last races without lane lines. Avoiding head-on collisions was a part of the race.
1962 ish thicker swim caps – bubble crepe– made to keep heads warmer and caps covered with 3D flowers
1962 The National Women’s Rowing Association is started in California.
1963 The song Surfin’USA is released by the Beach Boys on March 27, 1963.
“We’ll all be planning out a route, we’re gonna take real soon. We’re waxing down our surfboards, we can’t wait for June. We’ll all be gone for the summer, we’re on safari to stay. Tell the teacher we’re surfin’, surfin’ U. S. A.”
The song Surfer Girl is released by the Beach Boys on September 16, 1963.
“We could ride the surf together, while our love would grow.”
A swim club had made informal arrangements for support boats for their 5 mile ocean swim, but not all showed up. The two who did, in a rowboat, tried to wave to get the attention of a fishing boat headed directly for the two fastest swimmers. The pilot of the fishing boat did not see the swimmers and thought the waves to be a greeting. Swimmer Jim Small died three days later.
1964 Australian swimmer Dawn Fraser becomes the first woman to win four Olympic gold medals and the first swimmer to win an event in three straight Olympiads (1956, 1960 and 1964).
She won a total of eight medals—four gold and four silver, four in individual events and four in relays and had 39 world records.
American Dick Roth won the men’s 400 IM while battling an appendicitis attack
Summer of 1964, teenager Newman Darby made the first sailboard, or windsurf board. “I wanted to explore. I couldn’t drive, but I could ride a bike and I could row a boat. I used half of a pup tent for a sail, and I went out to the islands (in the river) and had a great time.” His first boat, built at age 12, had sank. In the 1980s he got a design patent for a one-person sailboat. He was still windsurfing three times a week in his seventies. “You don’t have to have a college degree to be an inventor. Kids invent things in their bedrooms.”
During a 1964 lifeguard competition at Huntington Beach, lifeguards Mike Henry and Pete Orth of Carpenteria, California, collided with the Huntington Beach pier after their dory went out of control on a ten foot wave. ABC television’s Wide World of Sports filmed this moment and replayed it over and over again as one of the ‘Great Moments’ of the year.
On July 4, 1964 the Civil Rights Act was passed by Congress. A photo from a swimming pool has been credited with convincing undecided members of Congress to vote for it. The photo was of the owner of a ‘whites only’ hotel pouring acid into the pool when men and women, black and white had committed an act of integration and civil disobedience by entering the pool together.
1964 Pete Peterson designs a rescue tube made from foam rubber hot dipped in a rubber coating. See also the original rescue tube, 1935.
1965 – First full-time woman sports broadcaster on national TV (ABC) is swimmer Donna De Varona. In 1960, at the age of 13, she became the youngest member of a U.S. Olympic swim team. In 1964 she won gold medals in the 400 IM and 400 Freestyle Relay at the Tokyo Olympics. She held 18 world records, served on two Presidential Commissions and five terms on the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports.
In 1965 through 1974, Horatio Iglesias of Argentina won 28 of 44 professional races to be ranked #1 in the world in marathon swimming. He started swimming at age 7 to help with a back problem.
1965, a trained bottlenosed dolphin named Tuffy dove 200 feet to the La Jolla, California Sea Lab II installation to bring mail and tools. He was also trained to guide lost divers to safety. The first marine mammal open ocean military operation.
1965-75 dolphins used in Vietnam to perform surveillance and guard military boats from enemy swimmers. The Navy denies the rumors they were trained to attack and kill enemy swimmers.
1966 Mihir Sen (same guy as the 1958 English Channel swim) swam across 7 straits of the five continents in one calendar year. The straits included the Panama Canal in 36 hours, the strait of Gibraltar (between Europe and Africa) in 8 hours and 1 minute, the Strait of the Dardanelles, while being guarded by the Turkish Navy, and the Palk Strait between India and Sri Lanka in 25 hours and 36 minutes.
Adolph Keifer patents ‘wave-eating’ lane lines. The story is that he noticed a hurricane light covered in woven plastic on a table in a Baltimore restaurant and pictured the same material in cylinders and crammed on a lane line. USA Swimming calls them one of the top 25 innovations in swimming. Among his other inventions (and a dozen patents) was using PVC foam in ring buoys and life vests instead of canvas-covered cork or kapok flotation.
April 9, Mark Spitz, aged 16, appeared on ABC’s Wide World of Sports for the first time at the AAU Indoor Swimming & Diving Championships. He finished sixth in the 400 yard IM.
The surfing film, Endless Summer is released. It “highlights the adventures of two young American surfers…who follow the everlasting summer around the world. Their unique expedition takes them to Senegal, Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Tahiti, Hawaii and California.” It cost Bruce Brown $50,000 to produce and made millions.
Joyce Hofman becomes the first woman to win the world amateur surfing championship in Sydney, Australia twice.
1968 Roy Jacuzzi makes his first “Roman” bathtub.
In the 1968 Olympics, if the (California) Santa Clara Swim Club had been a country, they would have
finished fifth as a country based on medals won in combined sports.
1970 David Andrew Wilkie of Great Britain is the first elite swimmer to wear a cap and goggles in a major competition.
1972 Mark Spitz, born in Modesto, California, wins seven Olympic gold medals in swimming while wearing a full head of frictional drag-producing hair and a mustache. Seven gold medals is the most at that point ever won in one Games in any sport. Time for 100 fly 54.27, 200 fly 2:00.7, 100 free 51.22 and 200 free 1:52.78 plus three team golds. (By 1984 these times would not have even qualified him for the U.S. tryouts.)
The poster of Spitz wearing a swimsuit and his medals earned him $10,000 and 15 cents per poster.
The starting block he used to win six of his seven gold medals is on view at the Swimming Hall of Fame in Florida.
In a 1972 Olympic waterpolo match between Hungary and Italy, eight Hungarian players were suspended in 38 seconds.
When Mike Burton won the 1500 in 1972 at age 25 people thought he was too old.
The 1972 Munich games were the first to use electronic timing. Previously stopwatches were used and the time were only recorded to one-tenth of a second. With electronic timing records are kept to the hundredth.
Congress passes Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.
“No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subject to discrimination under any education program or activities receiving Federal financial assistance.”
At that time only about 31,000 women are involved in college sports; spending on athletic scholarships for women is less than $100,000; and the average number of women’s teams at a college is two.
Four Hewlett-Packard engineers spun off from HP and founded Colorado Time Systems. The company added a print head in the console of electronic timing systems (the touch plates were invented by Bill Parkinson, see 1957) making the timing fully automated through the whole process, from judging and timing through recording of the results.
1974 Jack Johnstone and Don Shanahan invented the first triathlon, held on September 25th at Mission Bay, (San Diego), California with 46 male and female athletes. The race featured a total of 6 miles running, 5 miles biking and 500 yards of swimming, the last event, which some competitors finished after dark. Most of the athletes went for pizza together after the race.
Jack Johnstone said:
“One minor, but memorable experience I had was when I ordered the award trophies. The trophy maker called and asked how to spell TRIATHLON. He hadn’t found it in any dictionary. I thought, Well, if it’s not in any dictionary, the word must not exist. It’s up to me how to spell it. Given the spellings PENTATHLON, HEPTATHLON, and DECATHLON, I guess there wasn’t really much choice, but it seemed like a lot of power at the time.”
John Collins (see 1978 Ironman) was the 35th finisher.
1975 Jeff Clark, age 17, is the first to surf Mavericks. He will surf it alone for 15 years.
Donna M. Tobias was the first woman to become a US Navy deep sea (hard hat) diver. She was also a submarine escape instructor.
1976 Enith Brigitha of the Netherlands Antilles became the first swimmer of African descent to win an Olympic medal (two bronze).
1977 first patent for a kite for kite skiing/surfing by Gijsbertus Adrianus Panhuise in Amsterdam, Netherlands.
1978 At the awards ceremony for a Hawaiian run, a debate ensues as to who is in the best shape – runner, swimmer or cyclist. Navy Commander John Collins comes up with a race to find out the answer. “Whoever finishes first we’ll call the Ironman.”
In the first Ironman triathlon, three existing races put together, 15 competitors try to swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles (originally the two-day around Oahu race) and run a marathon (26.2 miles). 12 finish, John Collins among them. The winner was a Honolulu taxi driver, Gordon Haller, in 11:45.58. Haller later said “I pretty much thought it was another long workout.”
1979 – Lyn Memarie is the first woman to complete the Ironman (12:55:38).
In 1980 Wide World of Sports covered 106 men and two women. Dave Scott wins in 9:24.33. In 1982, 580 athletes, Scott Tinley passes Dave Scott during the marathon and wins with a record time of 9:19.41. By 1999 the woman winner, 32 year old Canadian Lori Bowden, had a time of 9:13.02.
There are currently dozens of qualifier races each year from Malaysia to Europe to Brazil.
The Ironman race for 2003 had 1500 competitors and 100 million people were expected to watch it on T.V. when it was broadcast two months after it was run. To pull off this race requires 7000 volunteers, over 12,000 bananas, 600 bottles of sunscreen and 100,000 gallons of various fluids.
March 1980, President Carter announced that the United States would boycott the Moscow Olympic games as a protest to the Soviet Union’s military involvement in Afghanistan.
At the 1980 Olympics Russian Vladimir Salnikov swims the first under 15 minute 1500M freestyle (14:58.27).
A 1982 printing of American Red Cross Lifesaving Rescue and Water Safety, says in part: “If a person is in danger of drowning only a short distance from shore and there is no rescue equipment of any kind available, the untrained swimmer may feel that is it necessary to attempt the rescue. In such cases, the rescuer should swim to a position behind the victim and make contact with the victim by seizing the person’s hair.”
Lifeguard certification cards (advanced lifesaving and water safety) featured a drawing of the silhouettes of a man dragging a buxom female victim through the water on her back by her hair.
Lifeguard Judy Moss crawled the last 20 yards across the finish line of the Hawaiian
“At 23, I knew no limits. I was so naive. It was a surprise to me that I was leading the race, a helicopter following me, but I was in real trouble the last 7 miles of the run. Then I fell, 20 yards out. Glycogen debt. Muscles running on empty. We did it on bananas and Coca-Cola then. Now it’s Gatorade and Goo.
I fell three times, and I knew I didn’t have the strength to get up. My mind was clear. It was frightening because I was not in control of my body, and disappointing, because I knew I was losing my tenuous grip on the lead. I was equal parts embarrassed and scared, but it wasn’t painful. Pain is such an interesting thing. Childbirth is good pain. Competing is good pain. What I didn’t want was to be picked up, because that would be against the rules. I could feel the energy of the people around me. They wanted to reach out and help me, but you can’t be supported in any way. I thought I better stay down. So I crawled.”
Chris Silva of UCLA became the first African-American swimmer on the U.S. National team.
1984 Founding of the Surfrider Foundation, “a grassroots, non-profit, environmental organization that works to protect our oceans, waves, and beaches.”
Search for the latest water quality report of any beach in California, Hawaii, Texas, Alabama, and parts of Florida through the Surfrider site at:
After a rain, they might recommend:
“Polluted Runoff Advisory: There has been recent heavy rainfall which means it is likely that there are high levels of polluted runoff in the surf zone. Raw sewage may also be in the surf zone after heavy rains. Water contact’s not recommended, especially near rivermouths, lagoon openings, and flowing stormdrains, for 72 hours after the end of the rain event.”
Tracy Caulkins won three gold medals in 1984 in Los Angeles. Her career included 48 US titles, (US titles in every stroke), 63 American records and 5 world records.
1986-88 six dolphins in the Persian Gulf patrolled the Bahrian harbor to protect U.S. Navy ships from enemy swimmers and escorted Kuwaiti oil tankers.
1987 Lynne Cox (see also English Channel above) crossed of the 2.7 mile Bering Strait in 38-42 degree water.
(The recommended water temperature for swimming competition, according to USA Swimming, is between 78 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. According to FINA (Federation Internationale De Natation), the international swimming governing organization, it’s between 77 and 82 degrees Fahrenheit and according to the NCAA / YMCA, it’s between 79 and 81 degrees Fahrenheit.)
1988 Kristin Otto, 22, wins six gold medals for swimming at the Seoul Olympic Games, the most ever by a woman in a single games. She won gold in the 50 free, 100 free, 100 backstroke, 100 butterfly, 4×100 freestyle relay and 4×100 medley relay.
Greg Louganis wins the Olympic Spirit award, in part for winning gold in springboard diving and platform diving despite a three-inch head wound he got when he hit the board during a reverse 2.5 pike preliminary dive.
Anthony Nesty of Suriname and the University of Florida became the first swimmer of African heritage to set an Olympic record and win a gold medal. (He bested favorite Matt Biondi by one hundredth of a second in the 100 fly.) About 20,000 people (5% of the population of Suriname) greeted him at the airport on his return.
from the CDC National Center for Injury Prevention and Control:
“the Nassau County Commission decided to eliminate lifeguards on American Beach in order to save county expenses. Less than a year later on Memorial Day, 1990, five persons drowned and 20 others nearly drowned when rough ocean conditions and strong winds caused rip currents to form immediately offshore, making this one of the worst drowning episodes in Florida’s history. Shortly after this tragedy, local officials reestablished lifeguarding services. In the eight years since, no one has drowned.”
1989-2001 Baywatch soap opera
At one point the most-watched television show in the world.
Mid 1990’s, French brothers Bruno and Dominique Legaignoux wanted to go ‘flysurfing’ and they invented a water-relaunchable kite. They started their own company in France in 1993/94. They named it Wipika Wind Powered Inflatable Kite Aircraft) and licensed their technology to other companies.
It uses inflated tubes for spars, allowing the kite to be relaunched from the water without having to reel it in first.
History of and how-to of kitesurfing
1992 Men’s full length suits, faster than one piece and full body shaving, are back on the cover of the American Red Cross book Swimming and Diving.
Speedo has this description (2003 website) for their fastest swim suits: “The shark, a creature that is fast in water but not naturally hydrodynamic, was used as a model for the Fastskin™ swimsuit. The shark’s quickness is attributed to V-shaped ridges on its skin called dermal denticles, which decrease drag and turbulence around its body, allowing the surrounding water to pass over the shark more effectively. Due to the drag effect that occurs when an object travels through water, Fastskin™ fabric was constructed with built-in ridges emulating sharkskin. Fastskin™ is comprised of “super stretch” fabric made to improve the suits fit while compressing muscles. The result is a reduction of drag and muscle vibration, which increases productivity…Final testing results found the new fabric has a 3% lower surface resistance over that of the Aquablade™, which 77% of medal winners wore in the 1996 Olympics. In addition, the Fastskin™ with arms is 7.5% faster than all other suits tested.”
from the CDC National Center for Injury Prevention and Control :
“Keawaula Beach at Kaena Point State Park is located at the westernmost point on the island of Oahu. The beach is exposed to high surf; a strong shore break; and a strong, often severe, current. The remote, pristine site attracts many surfers, sunbathers, swimmers, and waders. The combination of dangerous physical features and heavy use by patrons increases the risk for water-related injury and death. From 1985 to 1991, two drownings and 40 near-drownings occurred at Keawaula Beach. Although the State of Hawaii does not provide lifeguards, it elected to contract with the City and County of Honolulu to place lifeguards at Keawaula Beach beginning in January, 1992. Since then, no drownings have occurred at this beach.”
1993 MIT engineers began working on the first robotic version of a fish, the robotuna, “with the overall goal of developing a better propulsion system for autonomous underwater vehicles.”
1994 Kutraleeswaran (born in 1981) swam six waterways in the same calendar year. “I prefer swimming in the sea. It offers such challenges; fighting against the current, the tides and the waves. Usually people are scared of waves, and tend to run backwards the moment waves come towards them. Hence one needs extraordinary mental strength to swim in the sea. “
1996 The US synchonized swimming team receives a perfect score of 100 in the free routine for a gold medal in team competition.
Russian Denis Pankratov swam (one source says 35 meters, another says 25) underwater with his dolphin kick in winning the 100 fly. FINA later changed the rules to limit underwater swimming to 15 meters.
The first record free diving in the United States: Mehgan Heaney-Grier, age 18, went 155 feet deep on one breath of air, establishing the first-ever constant weight freediving record for both men and women in the USA.
In 1997 Sabir Muhammad of Stanford becomes the first African-American to break an American swimming record. “Yeah, I felt the pressure (of being a black role model), but it’s something that I didn’t try to think about when I was swimming. I just swam and stayed focused.”
“Swimming gets this reputation as kind of being the country club sport. It’s a crucial life skill, though. No one dies from not being able to play basketball.”
In 1998, 31 year old Benoit Lecomte swam across the Atlantic (5,600 km/3,736 nautical miles in 72 days). To train for the swim he swam and cycled 3 to 5 hours a day, six days a week for two years. He was guidedby two sailors on a sailboat and protected by an electronic force field. He swam 6 to 8 hours a day at two-hour intervals, using mainly freestyle (with fins) or a little dolphin kick with a monofin.
1999 – The second oldest record in swimming is broken when American swimmer Jenny Thompson (Five-time Olympic gold medalist) breaks Mary Meagher’s 18-year-old world record in the 100-meter butterfly at the Pan Pacific Championships in Sydney, Australia. At the ‘advanced’ age of 26, she clocked 57.88 seconds.
Bula Choudhury became the first Asian woman to swim the English channel twice, (the first time was in 1989). Since then she swam the Strait of Gibraltar in 2000, Tiranian Sea in Italy (2001), Great Toroneos Gulf in Greece (2002), Catalina Channel in the U.S. (2002) and Cooks Straits in New Zealand (2003), well on her way to swimming the seven seas. Read more at:
2000 The longest standing record in international swimming is broken by Australian swimmer Susie O’Neill when she beats Mary T. Meagher’s 1981 world record for the 200 meter butterfly with a time of 2:5.81.
In 2000 the triathlon became an Olympic sport. For an Olympic event the ‘short course’ distances are 1.5 kilometer swim, 40 kilometer bike and 10 kilometer run.
Syncronized diving debuted in the 2000 Olympics. (ARCS&WS 2004) “In syncho diving, two divers of the same gender perform the same or complementary dives from the same level board. On the platform, divers take off from opposite sides of the platform. On the springboard, divers take off from adjacent boards.”
Usually they perform the same dive; occasionally dives complementing each other are chosen.
Women’s events introduced in 2000 at Sydney were water polo, pole vaulting, trampoline and synchronized diving.
The oldest and youngest US Olympic swimmers in 2000 were Dara Torres (33) and Michael Phelps (15).
In 2000, in the Short Course World Championships held in Athens, Greece, Sabir Kasib Muhammad II won silver and bronze medals and became the first African-American to win a medal at a major international swimming competition.
Council of Ministers Resolution
12 February 2001
“All Internet users in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia shall refrain from publishing or accessing data containing some of the following:
Anything contravening a fundamental principle or legislation, or infringing the sanctity of Islam and its benevolent Shari’ah, or breaching public decency…”
One blocked site had a five page catalogue featuring swimwear from bikinis to conservative skirted swimwear.
Documentation of Internet Filtering in Saudi Arabia at:
“Swimsuits, lingerie, modeling, and other non-pornographic human images. Pages were blocked from Yahoo categories that suggest the display of images of people wearing less clothes than is typical in Saudi Arabia. For example, 28 pages were blocked from Yahoo’s Swimming & Diving category.”
Michael Phelps swims the 200 meter butterfly in 1:54.92 and becomes the youngest male in history to break a world swimming record – at the age of 15 years, 9 months.
Kristine Buckley (From the S.F. bay area), chosen “Swimmer of the Year” by the English Pilots Association for her English Channel swim. (She used swims from Alcatraz as part of her training and became the only woman in the world with 75 swims from Alcatraz.)
“Let me just tell you how naïve I was about this whole Channel swim. The shortest distance across the Channel is from Shakespeare Beach to Cap Gris Nez is 21 miles. And no one ever goes straight across because the tidal flow will carry a swimmer in a curve, which makes for a longer course… I thought one just showed up in Dover and swam across. Wrong! It all depends on sea conditions, water and air temperature, wind-chill, hypothermia, swim technique and seasickness.”
First NCAA Women’s Water Polo Championship. The UCLA Bruins beat Stanford 5-4.
2003 From the Nebraska ALCU website: “In the summer of 2003, Lubna Hussein went to an Omaha public pool with her three young daughters and a friend. The pool employees refused to allow Lubna in, claiming her modest clothing and Muslim head scarf were not permitted. Lubna and her daughters saw other people in the pool area who were wearing street clothing, but they still were refused entry. Lubna returned on a second occasion and tried to explain her religious beliefs required her to wear her scarf and clothing–she explained she only wanted to watch her children swim, not swim herself. Again, though other people–who were white–were in the pool area in regular clothes, Lubna was denied entry. We filed suit in the spring of 2004, charging the city of Omaha with racial discrimination as well as religious and gender discrimination. The case was settled in February, 2005, with a change in the pool dress code policies to allow anyone with religious clothing to enter pool facilities in the future.”
Free diver Tanya Streeter, 30, a native of the Cayman Islands, holds world records with a 400 foot dive and a 525 foot dive, each on a single breath. Each required that she holds her breath for around four minutes as she rides a weighted sled down and uses help from gas filled bags on the way up or powers herself back up with fins.
7/1/2003 In a ‘swim for clean water,’ Christopher Swain became the first person to swim the Columbia River’s
1,243 mile length. A press release said “Swain stroked through class IV rapids, radioactive isotopes, diesel fuel, arsenic, PCB’s and heavy metals. He survived six ear infections, two swollen lymph nodes and even getting run over by his own escort boat.”
At the Labor Day, 2003, 2.38-mile Waikiki Roughwater Swim, less than 40 percent of the swimmers finished. “Of over 1,000 swimmers who started the race, a mere 356 finished. More than 600 were rescued by eight units of the Honolulu Fire Department, including its helicopter unit. The Coast Guard also joined in the rescue operation with a helicopter and boats and private boaters in the area pulled several swimmers out of the water,” according to Swim Info. One source put the cost for the Coast Guard alone at $31,000.
Read more at:
Hamdiya Ahmed al-Sammak learned to swim in the Tigris River when she was four. By 1967 she was Iraq’s top female swimmer and had Olympic dreams. She earned two gold medals and two silvers at the Arab Games in Libya in 1975.
In 1979 Saddam Hussein’s regime threatened her with death if she would not work as a swimming coach and lifeguard at a Baghdad presidential compound, teaching the wives and daughters of senior officials how to swim. As the Iraq war began in 2003, she escaped and started training again, in javelin, another of her record holding sports.
By 2003 there were nine million residential swimming pools and 230,000 commercial pools in the United States, compared to 2,400 total pools in 1948 and more than 30,000 in 1960.
1/1/2004 Literally thousands of people celebrate the first day of the year by swimming in lakes and the ocean. The San Diego polar bear club doesn’t have as cold of water as others, picture at:
see also the original 1903 Coney Island Polar Bear Club above
January 2004, Viola Hartman Cady Krahn, the world’s oldest diver at age 102, was inducted into the International Masters Hall of Fame. She is the only woman to win national titles in swimming, diving and waterpolo. At age 100 she appeared on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.
For Polar Bears Club members, winter is considered to be Dec. 21 to March 21. The standard for membership in the club started at 17 miles over the 90 days and is now 40 miles. In the San Francisco club season ending in 2004 51 year-old George Kebbe set a record of swimming 356 miles in the 50ish degree water of the cove off Jefferson Street. “I challenged myself, just to see if I could do it. I started getting competitive and getting trophies. Then my focus was doing the most I could.”
August 2004 Michael Phelps had been offered a million dollars by a swimsuit company if he could tie Mark Spitz’s record of seven gold medals in one Games. He didn’t, but he won 6 of the 12 US swimming golds and two bronzes. These eight medals in one games tied Soviet gymnast Aleksandr Dityatin for the single games total best.
When Phelps first learned to swim at age 7 he swam only backstroke. “I was afraid to put my head underwater.”
Natalie Coughlin won 2 gold, 3 silver and 1 bronze.
By winning a silver medal as the anchor leg of the women’s 400 meter freestyle relay, Jenny Thompson moved into a tie for the most all time medals among US Olympians. (11 medals at that point, tied with Mark Spitz, Matt Biondi (swimmers) and Carl Osborn (shooting)).
Maritza Correia also won a silver medal in the women’s 400 meter freestyle relay. She became the first African-American woman on the U.S. Olympic team as well as the first black and Hispanic swimmer on the U.S. Olympic team. As a child her doctor prescribed swimming for her scoliosis, an abnormal curvature of the spine. “Probably about one percent of the U.S. swimmers are black, so it gives you an incentive to go out there and show them you can do it, too.”
Swimmers Tara and Dana Kirk (Stanford) become the first sisters to compete together on a US Olympic team.
German kayaker Birgit Fischer won her eighth gold medal (in the K4 500), the only woman to win gold medals 24 years apart. Her 1980 gold was for East Germany.
from the Coast guard:
In 2004, States and jurisdictions reported a total of 12,781,476 registered recreational boats compared to 12,794,616 in 2003. The 4,904 boating accidents reported in 2004 resulted in 676 fatalities, 3,363 injuries, and $35,038,306 in property damage.
.. Approximately seventy percent of all fatal boating accident victims drowned (484 out of 676). Approximately 90 percent of the victims who drowned were not wearing their personal flotation device (PFD or lifejacket). Overall, fatal accident data show approximately 431 lives could have been saved last year if boaters had worn their lifejackets.
Approximately 70% of all reported fatalities occurred on boats where the operatorhad not received boating safety instruction.
.. Alcohol was involved in approximately one-third of all boating fatalities in 2004.
On Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2005, LouisianaGov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco granted her first pardon to Betty Jean Wilson 41 years after her conviction for trying to integrate a public swimming pool in 1963. (The governor said she would seek a pardon for her sister, Pearl, now deceased.)
“City Park was … the most luxurious park and recreation center,” Betty Jean recalled. “But only whites were welcome… We knew we’d be arrested. We went to that pool because we knew we had the right to be there.” As they entered the pool complex a white lifeguard said “Y’all can’t come in here,” Betty Jean replied, “I don’t believe you’ll be keeping us out of the pool today.”
She and her sister didn’t make it past the dressing rooms and were detained by authorities on charges of battery and resisting arrest. Their house was later shot up by vigilantes. Jan. 6, 1964, they were convicted on the battery charge and sentenced to either a $100 fine or 90 days in prison. They were unable to pay the fine and served their sentence.
March 5, 2005: 47 surfers rode a Snapper Rocks, Australia wave on a 40 foot long 3 feet wide surfboard made by Nev Hyman. It was a replica of World Championship Tour surfer Dan Wills’ standard 5’11 competition board. Willks said: “I almost didn’t believe he was making it when he told me. I was freaking out thinking about what might happen if we nose-dived? Or got caught by a massive wave? Or even how we’d manage to catch a wave! But it actually handled really, really well.”
June 29, Forty surfers caught one wave at one time in Carlsbad (San Diego County, California). This broke the world record of 38 surfers on one wave.
July 29, 60 surfers in Huntington Beach, California surfed on the same board as the March 5, 2005 model. There were 65 on at the start but the combined weight of people and board was too much. They rode for almost 12 seconds.
September 17-18, 2005, 20 Finnish swimmers swam a continuous relay of 184,994 meters during a 24-hour period, breaking the 1982 world record of 182,807 meters by a group from New Zealand. That’s 7,708 meters (4.83 miles) per hour. If each swam the same distance, it’s 9,250 meters per swimmer. No information is available on how far each swimmer swam for each leg of the relay, but one source guesses 25 or 50 meters.
The swimmers were from six clubs, including 2004 Olympians Matti Rajakyla, Jarno Pihlava and Matti Maki.
August, 2006 A men’s synchronized swim team invited to perform an exhibition at a Master’s swim meet at Stanford, was uninvited when FINA International found out and applied the rule of the International Olympics Committee that synchronized swimming is a female sport.
April 7, 2007 Martin Strel, a 52 year old Slovenian marathon swimmer, swam 3274 miles down the Amazon river in 66 days. He evaded drug smugglers and pirates, fought exhaustion, second degree sunburn, hallucinations, diarrhea, whirlpools, crocodiles and pirannas, lost 34 pounds and was hospitalized after the swim.
“If I can swim that river, then the Palestinians and the Israelis can find a way to live together in peace” … “the Chinese government can allow the sovereign of Tibet, the Dalai Lama, to return to his throne” … ” the eight most powerful and richest countries in the world can find a way to forgive the debts of the fifteen poorest countries.”
June 25 to August 23, 2000 he swam the 1,866 mile Danube, July 4 to September 9, 2002 he swam the 2,360 miles of the Mississippi and June 10 to July 30, 2004 he swam the 2,487 mile lenght of the Yangtse River.
April 14, 2007 the U.S. Olympic Committee announced that it has selected Chicago as its applicant city for the summer 2016 Olympic and Paralympic games. The Olympic Village would be situated on Chicago’s lakefront. The final decision as to a host city will be made in October 2009.
May 12, 2008 TYR sues Speedo (Warnaco Swimwear, Inc.) and Mark Schubert with 9 complaints, including trade libel and unfair business practices, saying in part, “Without disclosing his financial relationship with Speedo, USA Swimming has allowed Schubert to abuse his position as national team coach to advocate for Speedo.”
August 2008 When he won the 200 meter butterfly (1 minute, 52.03 seconds), Michael Phelps earned his eleventh Olympic gold medal, putting him ahead of four other athletes who had also won ten gold medals in their lifetimes: distance runner Paavo Nurmi (Finland), gymnast Larysa Latynina (Russia), swimmer Mark Spitz (USA) and track & field icon Carl Lewis (USA).
When he joined teammates in winning the 400 meter medley relay he won his eighth Olympic gold medal in one Olympics, surpassing Mark Spitz’s record of 1972. This also gave him the most total Olympic gold medals by any athlete, 14. (The time for the medley relay in 2008 was 3:29:34, in 1972 it was 3:48:16 when Mark Spitz was a part of the relay.) This was also his 16th Olympic medal, passing Soviet gymnast Nikolai Andrianov (with 15 medals) for the most medals ever by a male athlete. Phelps said “Nothing is impossible, all it takes is imagination . . . It’s been nothing but fun.” “My mom and I were joking, my middle school English teacher said I’d never be successful.” “I’m lucky to have the talent I have, the drive I have, the excitement for the sport.”
Natalie Du Toit of South Africa lost her leg in a motorcycle accident in 2001. She became the first amputee to compete at the Olympic games, finishing 16 of 25 in the women’s open water 10K race. “For me it’s not about being able bodied of disabled, it’s all the same to me, I get up and race. I am not a campaigner, it’s just my personal dream and my personal goal.”
March 18, 2009 USA swimming, in accordance with FINA (Federation Internationale de Natation), rules that “the use of more than one swimsuit at a time during any USA swimming sanctioned or approved competition is prohibited.”
May 19, 2009 FINA (Federation Internationale de Natation) issued a list of 202 swimsuits approved for competition, with names like Powerskin X-treme, Amphibian, Hydrospeed, Submarine Thermo Fusion, Rocket Sprinter, Fastskin XT (Flying Fish) and Aquablade. In a letter June 1, 2009 USA Swimming announced that they would use the same list, with some exceptions for “traditional” swimsuits, because the FINA list only addressed new models of swimsuits.
The traditional suits will be okay if:
female: “the swimsuit shall not cover the neck, extend past the shoulders or past the pelvis
male: “the swimsuit shall not extend above the navel or below the knees.”
June, 2009 The Lifesaving Society, Canada, found that in the most recent year in which data about drowning became available, “the annual drowning toll in Canada has spiked.” 433 had been recorded in 2004, up to 492 in 2005. Drowning remains the third leading cause of death among Canadians under 60 years of age and the second leading cause of death for children under the age of 10. Men are four times more likely to drown than women. 90% of people who drown while boating were found not wearing a lifejacket and alcohol was involved in about one third of the drowning deaths.
2010 USA Swimming reports that 70 percent of African-American children, 58 percent of Hispanic children and 40 percent of Caucasion children lack swimming skills.
The World Conference on Drowning Prevention 2011 says that the global burden of drowning, in everyday life, recreation and disasters, is estimated to range from over 400,000 to 1 million people every year. “Children, particularly those aged 1 to 4 years, carry the overwhelming burden of drowning in high, middle and low income countries.”
From an article in Aquatics International
“Tomas Lopez, 21, was dismissed for vacating his lifeguarding zone to save a man drowning in an unguarded area of the beach in Hallandale Beach, Fla. According to reports, Lopez made the rescue after he was approached by a beachgoer who pointed out a man struggling in the water nearly 1,500 feet south of his post. . . . Six guards quit over the episode, and the story was picked up in both national and international media. . .
“I have read three different news stories about this incident … and in each of them it is mentioned that Lopez secured backup at his beach before venturing out to make the save.”
Summer of 2012 (memorial Day to Labor Day) 137 children under age 15 (approx. 100 of them under age 5) drowned in pools/spas, according to the U.S. Consumer product Safety Commission. Texas had 17 child drownings, California 10, Ohio 9, Arizona 8 and Michigan 8.
October 2012 Mixed gender relays will be held at eight World Cup meets this season. The first was in Dubai, won by the German team.
“The burkini has become a hot topic in France and around the world. Recently, the religious swimwear, which covers the body from head to toe, leaving only the face, hands and feet exposed, has come under scrutiny after the country has undergone a number of terrorist attacks. At least 30 towns in the country have banned the burkini, and video and images of police forcing women to remove the garment have made their rounds on the Internet.
But the ban is illegal, at least according to courts in France. Despite this ruling, however, 22 towns are maintaining a ban on the burkini even though courts have said mayors have no legal right to dictate what women wear.”
In the 2016 summer Olympics Stanford swimmer Simone Manuel became the first African-American female swimmer to win a gold medal in an individual event . She tied with Penny Oleksiak of Canada for the gold medal in the 100 meter freestyle with an Olympic record of 52.70. After winning, she said, “It means a lot, especially with what is going on in the world today, some of the issues of police brutality. This win hopefully brings hope and change to some of the issues that are going on.” She won a total of 2 gold and 2 silver medals.
(100 meters is the length of De Anza’s pool and back again. Many of our novice swimmers take the same amount of time to cross the width of the pool (25 yards) by the end of their first quarter of swim class.)
“NBC REPORTER: You are the first African-American woman to medal in an individual event in swimming. What does that mean to you, Simone?
SIMONE MANUEL: Yeah, it means a lot. I mean, this medal is not just for me, it’s for a whole bunch of people who have came before me and have been an inspiration to me — Maritza, Cullen. And it’s for all the people after me who can’t—who believe they can’t do it. And I just want to be an inspiration to others that you can do it.”
2017 Cruise ship lines (Disney and Royal Caribbean) institute fleetwide lifeguarding of ship pools.
2018 In Principles and Practices of Aquatic Law, 1st Edition, by John Robert Fletemeyer (Editor)
“It is estimated that about 50 percent of aquatics accidents are alcohol related.”
A 2018 report from The International Water Safety Foundation, noted “In Cambodia, for example, over 50% of all child deaths are due to drowning. On average, 6 Cambodian children drown every single day.”
Nov. 4, 2018 Ross Edgley, 33 years old, finished a 157 day, 1,780-mile swim around Britain. A New York Times article said he “swam six to 12 hours a day. He spent the rest of his time eating and sleeping on his support boat, from where he documented his quest in episodes streamed online. . . he posted an unflattering photograph of the impact the swim was having on his body — specifically his heavily bruised, swollen feet, which looked as flat as fins . . . Swimming day in and day out in saltwater also turned his tongue dry and sore, making it hard for him to eat, swallow or talk. The solution? Coconut oil and yogurt, which helped him to overcome the soreness and keep going.”
A report from July 30, 2018 In Africa, “After Malaria and malnutrition, drowning is the cause of more deaths than any other. Although a relatively rare occurrence, aircraft incidents involving fatalities make headline news across the world, yet an overturned canoe resulting in just as many deaths does not.”
Summer of 2019
From an article in Aquatics International:
Summer of 2019 “saw a slight increase in the number of children under 15 who fatally drowned in a U.S. pool or spa.
At least 150 children in that age bracket died in U.S. pools and spas, according to the USA Swimming Foundation and the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which collaborate in CPSC’s Pool Safely campaign.
“Texas saw the most reported pool/spa drownings of children under 15, with 26 occurring this summer. Other states with a high number of incidents included Ohio (11), Florida (10), California (10), Pennsylvania (8), Arizona (7) and Georgia (7).”
How can I tell if I’m a good swimmer? has stats to compare yourself to including the Navy Seal swim test, Naval Academy midshipmen’s test, a prerequisite for an “Escape from Alcatraz” 1-1/2 mile ocean swim and much more.
History of lifesaving has excerpts from this page and more
Two thirds of drowning victims are good swimmers. Why you should wear a lifejacket
Are you an adult who can’t swim, or has never been in a pool ? Novice swimming
Enrollment and registration steps for De Anza College (which you can do online) are at: http://www.deanza.fhda.edu/admissions/ and
for international students, http://www.deanza.fhda.edu/international/