Swimming not a sport at first, but a life saver
SWIMMING: Most animals are born swimmers, but man has to learn to
swim. He possibly did so in early times by watching animals in water;
and his most primitive style was thus the `dog paddle' stroke.
Ancient monuments and records uncovered by archaeologists depict him
moving along or beneath the water. Roman documents and the Bible testify
to the early existence of swimming.
Obviously, swimming at first was not a sport, but a life saver and
part of welfare. In Egyptian writing, the sign for 'swim' showed a man's
head and one arm forward and the other back, a position anticipating the
'crawl' stroke. There is also the well-known Greek legend of young
Leander, who fell in love with beautiful Hero, priestess of Aphrodite.
As such, she could not marry, and the two lovers had to meet secretly.
They were separated by the waters of Hellespont (later, the (Dradanelles);
and every night, Leander swam across to spend a few hours with his lady
love who guided him to show with a lamp.
One night, when a storm put out the light, Leander lost his bearings
and was drowned. When Hero eventually saw his body floating in the surf,
she was so heart broken that she also threw herself into the Hellespont.
Through the centuries, many doubted the possibility of Leander's
alleged achievement of swimming across such a long distance. However, in
the 19th Century, Lord Byron, on his visit to the Dradanelles, in 1810,
decided to test the feasibility of such a swim. Lieutenant Ekenhead
joined him in the adventure.
They succeeded on May 3, and the same day, proud of his achievement
and in great exhilaration, he penned the three verses, which appear in
his writings as 'Written after swimming from Sestos to Abydos'. He
actually wrote then six days after the event, but with typical poetic
licence, alaimed they had been written immediately after the swim.
Romans were renowned for their mastery of the water. The Hebrews had
mastered the art of swimming, and used it in war and peace. The Prophet
Issiah employed a graphic picture of a swimmer's powerful arm stroke. He
could not have done so without assuming that his listeners were
acquainted with it, and hence immediately frasped the meaning of the
There is other evidence from the New Testament. St. John's Gospel
(Chapter 21) contains the story of how Peter, while fishing with fiends,
on the lake of Tiberias, saw Christ manifesting himself on the shore. He
jumped into the water and swam the 100 yards or so that separated their
boat from land.
The first book on swimming is attributed to a German professor of
languages, Nicolaus Wynman, who published in Latin, in 1538, a volume in
the then popular dialogue form. He used the exotic title "The Driver" or
a dialogue concerning the 'Art of Swimming', both pleasant and joyful to
read. Scandinavian people were also adept at Swimming. The seventh or
eighth century Anglo-Saxon epic poem 'Beowful' describes its hero
swimming in the sea, killing sea monsters with his sword. The first book
on swimming in England came from Everard Digby, a Master of Arts at
Cambridge University. Written in 1587, in Latin, it contained a weird
assortment of woodcuts. In 1595, it was translated into English; and its
popularity was such that numerous writers copied it in toto, and almost
literally. Europe's Dark Ages took the joy out of aquatic sports. Sport
in general was discredited, and anything pertaining to the body held in
contempt. But most of all, diseases especially the epidemics that
decimated the population of Europe in frightening measure, were though
to be spread by the water. Yet, the nobility stayed with swimming, for
it was considered that its skill and art were part of the true
Only the 19th Century saw a revival of swimming. The opening of the
first public baths at Liverpool in 1828 was soon emulated everywhere.
London is credited with being the first to introduce swimming
competitions; and in 1837, the city owned six pools. The contests were
then supervised by the National Swimming Society.
Swimming clubs were established only in the 1860's. In 1875, Captain
Mathew Webb became the first person to swim the English channel, from
Dover to Calais. He did it in 21 hours, 45 minutes - a feat caused a
With rivalry on between several clubs, coaches everywhere began
experimenting to devise a faster style.
That is how, eventually, the Breast Stroke was replaced by the side
stroke (crawl). Bets and cash prizes added to the excitement of
swimming, but brought unruliness into the sport.
The Amateur Swimming Association, established in 1886, outlawed
betting of any kind within three years of its formation.
The reborn past time probably achieved its greatest impetus from the
first mix modern Olympic Games in 1896. Thereafter, swimming and aquatic
sports have been an integral part of practically every world-level