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Swimming


Swimming can be dated back to the Stone Age, but did not truly become an organised sport until the early 19th century.

An ancient discipline

Prehistoric man learnt to swim in order to cross rivers and lakes – we know this because cave paintings from the Stone Age depicting swimmers have been found in Egypt. Swimming was also referred to in Greek mythology.

Dawn of a sport

Swimming was not widely practised until the early 19th century, when the National Swimming Society of Great Britain began to hold competitions. Most early swimmers used the breaststroke, or a form of it.

Discovering the crawl

Based on a stroke used by native South Americans, the first version of the crawl featured a scissor kick. In the late 1880s, an Englishman named Frederick Cavill travelled to the South Seas, where he saw the natives performing a crawl with a flutter kick. Cavill settled in Australia, where he taught the stroke that was to become the famous Australian crawl.

Olympic history

Swimming has featured on the programme of all editions of the Games since 1896. The very first Olympic events were freestyle (crawl) or breaststroke. Backstroke was added in 1904.

In the 1940s, breaststrokers discovered that they could go faster by bringing both arms forward over their heads. This practice was immediately forbidden in breaststroke, but gave birth to butterfly, whose first official appearance was at the 1956 Games in Melbourne. This style is now one of the four strokes used in competition.

Women’s swimming became Olympic in 1912 at the Stockholm Games. Since then, it has been part of every edition of the Games. The men’s and women’s programmes are almost identical, as they contain the same number of events, with only one difference: the freestyle distance is 800 metres for women and 1,500 metres for men.

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Gallery

Swimming Men's 400m Individual Medley
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Swimming Men's 400m Individual Medley

Kosuke Hagino of Japan celebrates winning gold in the Final of the Men's 400m Individual Medley on Day 1 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Aquatics Stadium on August 6, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
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Swimming Women's 100m Butterfly
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Swimming Women's 100m Butterfly

Natsumi Hoshi of Japan, Katarina Listopadova of Slovakia and Daynara de Paula of Brazil compete in heat three of the Women's 100m Butterfly on Day 1 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Aquatics Stadium on August 6, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
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Swimming - Rio 2016 Olympic Games

Highlights of the Swimming on Day 1 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Aquatics Stadium on August 6, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
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“Sport is a great conversation opener and human-experience opener that puts us eye to eye”

For over 15 years, Canadian swimmer Mark Tewksbury has been using his success as an Olympian to fight against discrimination and defend gay rights in the sporting world. He is one of many inspirational athletes who, in the lead-up to the International Day of Sport for Development and Peace (IDSDP) on 6 April, illustrates how sport can be a tool for social change contributing to a better world.

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Olympic scholarships for athletes by Kirsty Coventry

Olympic Solidarity scholarships support the athletes in many ways: “I was able to just focus on my goal of becoming an Olympic champion,” acknowledges Kirsty Coventry.

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Anum Bandey, flying the flag for Pakistani swimming

At London 2012, Pakistani swimmer Anum Bandey achieved her ambitious goal of trimming a whole three seconds off her country’s 400m medley record. In the latest instalment of our “Words of Olympians” series, she recalls her Olympic experience.

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