Monday, April 2, 2012

It is More Fun: History of Sports 2

We would look back at the history of the sports that is included in the 2012 INC Unity Games.

Today we would discover the history of swimming, another first for the INC Unity Games. Swimming is the first and only water sport  event to be contested in this year's Unity Games. Let us look back at time line on how swimming becomes a world renown sport.


Flying Gull taught freestyle to the world when he winged his way past a fellow Native American Indian who went by the name Tobacco – in a race with Englishman Harold Kenworthy, doing breaststroke - down one length of a 130-foot pool in London on April 2, 1844. Note the time: 30 seconds for the equivalent of 39.6 metres.
‘The Times’ archive holds a report from a nameless correspondent who may well have been the first swimming writer, 154 years before the current swimming reporter for the paper penned FINA’s Centenary book. “Their style of swimming is totally un-European. They lash the water violently with their arms like the sails of a windmill and beat downward with their feet, blowing with force and performing grotesque antics.” Flying Gull and Tobacco, of the Ojibbeway tribe and invited to England by the National Swimming Society, had gone to their heavenly hunting grounds by the time Johnny Weissmuller broke the minute using a not-too-dissimilar style in 1922, but their influence cannot be understated, and their style had, according to folklore, been used by North American Indians, South Sea Native Island natives and Hawaiians for hundreds of years and had been developed, it is assumed, out of necessity to find a way of swimming faster.
Despite the Indian demonstration, 50 years would pass before the stroke would be popularised as frontcrawl. In the 1840s, sidestroke became more popular than breaststroke in racing. Charles Wallis watched Aborigines swim in Lane Cove River, Australia, using a sidestroke with a single-arm over-water recovery. He demonstrated the style on a visit to London in 1855. In the crowd was Professor Fred Beckwith, who went on to win the English Championship using the technique in 1859 and did so again when he defeated Deerfoot of the Senecca Indian tribe in a professional race in 1861.
The big breakthrough came in 1873, when John Trugeon, after observing South African Kaffirs (others suggest he had watched South American Indians), copied their double-arm over-water action with breaststroke kick in a 160-yard race at Lambeth Baths on August 11, 1873. It was an exhausting style; one that became widely used for shorter distances, while sidestroke remained the most commonly used technique for the rest of the 19th Century.
In 1874, the Society, after a few names changes, became the Swimming Association of Great Britain. It was a year later when Captain Matthew Webb caught the public’s imagination using breaststroke to become the first person to swim across the English Channel. In 1884, the Otter Swimming Club of London, the oldest in the world, broke away and formed the Amateur Swimming Union. The battle between the factions was finally settled, courtesy of the diplomatic skills of Horace Davenport, with the formation of the Amateur Swimming Association, as the ruling body for England is still known today, in 1886.
There was scant standardisation and rules rested somewhere between primitive and non-existent. Times were irrelevant. Not so in Australia, where in 1846 at Robinson Baths in Sydney, William Redman won the 440 yards freestyle “national championship” in 8:43. On February 9, 1858, Jo Bennett, of Sydney, beat Charles Stedman, of England, in what was dubbed a World Championship 100-yard race at St Kilda, in Melbourne. The first regular championships in Australia date back to 1889.
Over the next 50 years until FINA’s foundation, swimming’s popularity gathered pace across the world. Federations were formed in Germany in 1882, France in 1890 and Hungary in 1896, in time for Alfred Hajos to become the first Olympic swimming champion racing between ropes in the Bay of Zea, near Piraeus off Athens in 1896. In New Zealand, the federation dates back to 1890 and in the United States the first national championship, over 1 mile, was held in 1877. Scotland lays claim to a particular fame: it held the first woman’s championship, in 1892, with Ellen Dobbie taking the 200 yards crown at Glasgow in 4:25, on breaststroke.
By the dawn of the 20th Century, modern freestyle was in the making. Englishman Fred Cavill emigrated to Australia in 1878, watched natives in the South Seas using a style not unlike that of Flying Gull and taught his sons. Richard Cavill won the English 100yd freestyle in 58.6sec using double-arm over-water action with legs trailing. After the race, he was asked to describe what he was doing. He said it was like “crawling” through the water. The term frontcrawl was born.
Richard’s brother Syd wound up in San Francisco and taught the stroke to J. Scott Leary, the first American to swim the 100 yards in a minute, back in 1904. The style taught by the Cavills was taken up by Frederick Lane (AUS), who at 18 raced the New South Wales mile championship taking alternate arm strokes above the water and timing his pull to coincide with a scissor kick.
At the 1900 Olympic Games in Paris, Lane triumphed over 200m freestyle when swimming with the tide in the River Seine. He shattered previous time standards with a 2:25.2 victory that left him six seconds ahead of Hungarian Zoltan Halmay, whose battle with Charles Daniels (USA) marked the next phase in the development of freestyle just as FINA was about to be born.


Swimming has come a long way in 100 years of official FINA history. When the founding fathers of the federation gathered in London, 1908, there was no global standardisation of rules, structures, distances and general conditions under which race competitions could be held and records set. Swimming distances were often “guesstimates”, while most events took place in open water in which no two venues offered the same conditions, some racing taking place against the tide, others with the tide, some in choppy sea, others in millpond conditions.

For the first 65 years of FINA history, the Olympic Games was the only global competition open to swimmers. If London 1908 was the last male-only Games, then it would be 88 years before women had the same number of events to race in as men in Olympic waters. From 1908 to 1956, the men’s programme – 100m, 400m 1,500m freestyle, 100m backstroke, 200m breaststroke and 4x200m freestyle – remained unaltered. Women raced only 100m, 400m and 4x100m freestyle until 1924, when the 100m backstroke and 200m breaststroke were added to their schedule.

The biggest change in the Olympic swimming programme unfolded in 1956 after the 1952 decision to split breaststroke and butterfly into autonomous strokes. Between 1956 and 1964, men raced the 200m and women the 100m butterfly, while the new stroke allowed a 4x100m medley relay to be introduced in 1960 and 400m medley for men and women in 1964. That year, in Tokyo, also witnessed further growth in the men’s programme, with 200m backstroke and 4x100m freestyle making their debut. 

But it was in 1968 at Mexico City that the revolution took hold: men now had four new events – 200m freestyle, 100m breaststroke, 100m butterfly and 200m medley – while women closed the gulf to their male counterparts with no fewer than six new events to aim at, namely 200m and 800m freestyle (allowing Debbie Meyer, p126, to become the first woman to win three solo gold medals in Olympic waters), 200m backstroke, 100m breaststroke, 200m butterfly and 200m medley. As pressure grew to cut back the ever-growing number of participants at the Games, FINA was asked by the International Olympic Committee to make sacrifices. Reluctantly, it elected to remove the 200m medley for men and women and the men’s 4x100m freestyle. All three events returned for good in 1984.

The following Games, at Seoul in 1988, gave rise to the penultimate addition to the Olympic race roster, with 50m freestyle sprints for both sexes, and in 1996 women finally had the same number of races to aim at as men, when the 4x200m freestyle made its debut. The only difference in the male and female programmes today is that men race the 1,500m freestyle and women the 800m.

That distinction was got rid of at FINA World Championships in 2001, when an 800m for men and 1,500m for women joined the party alongside 50m sprint races in all strokes. The World Championships programme mirrored the Olympic programme (barring temporary Olympic removals) until 1986, when the 4x200m freestyle for women and 50m freestyle sprints for both sexes made their debut. The programme at the World Youth Championships that began in 2006 mirrors the senior event.

As the number of Olympic and World Championship events grew, so too did the number of days over which races took place. Early Olympics featured scattered events over the course of two weeks and more but the standard for much of the first 60 years of FINA history was a five to six-day programme. That stretched to seven by the 1980s and in 2000, at the Olympics in Sydney, races spanned eight consecutive days. That was also the case for World Championships from 2001 onwards, while at the 2008 Olympic Games, the switch to morning finals and evening heats dictated that the swimming events were held over nine days. There was no precedence for morning finals, the nearest thing to that being the three days of noon finals held at the Olympic Games in Seoul, 1988.

The World Championships (25m), formerly known officially (and still widely referred to) as World Short-Course Championships, has all the same events as its more prestigious long-course cousin, plus a 100m medley for both sexes. The event was held over four days from 1993 to 2004 and over five days from 2006. The short-course World Cup series, which from the early 1990s had been held in stages over the course of the northern hemisphere winter months, was improved drastically with an agreement for the 2007-2009 seasons to host all seven events on five continents over a period of just one month. The race schedule includes every event held at the world short-course championships, minus team races. 

Source: Fédération Internationale de Natation (FINA)

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