swimming, in recreation and sports, the propulsion of the body through water through combined arm and leg movements and the body’s natural flow. Swimming as an exercise is popular as an all-round body developer and is especially useful in therapy and as exercise for the physically handicapped. It is also taught for life-saving purposes. For activities involving swimming, see also diving, lifesaving, surfing, synchronized swimming, underwater diving and water polo.
Archaeological evidence and other evidence show that swimming was practiced as early as 2500 BC. in Egypt and thereafter in Assyrian, Greek, and Roman civilizations. In Greece and Rome, swimming was part of war training and, with the alphabet, was also part of basic education for men. In the Orient swimming dates back at least to the 1st century BCE, there is some evidence of swimming competitions since in Japan. By the 17th century, an imperial vinegar had made the teaching of swimming compulsory in schools. Organized swimming events were held in the 19th century before Japan opened to the Western world. Among the preliminary sailors in the Pacific, children apparently learned swimming about the time they went, or even earlier. Among the ancient Greeks, there are records of occasional competitions, and a famous boxer swam as part of his training. The Romans built swimming pools, which differ from their baths. During the 1st century BC. Roman Gaius Maecenas is said to have built the first heated pool.
The lack of swimming in Europe during the Middle Ages is explained by some authorities caused by a fear that swimming will spread infection and cause epidemics. There is some evidence of swimming in seaside resorts in Britain in the late 17th century, apparently in connection with water therapy. It was not until the 19th century, however, that the popularity of swimming began as both recreation and sports began in earnest. When the first swimming organization was formed there in 1837, London had six indoor pools with diving boards. The first swimming championship was a 400 meter long race, held in Australia in 1846 and annually thereafter. The Metropolitan Swimming Clubs of London, founded in 1869, eventually became the Amateur Swimming Association, the governing body of British amateur swimming. National swimming federations were formed in several European countries from 1882 to 1889. In the United States, swimming was first organized nationally as a sport by the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) when it was founded in 1888. The Fédération Internationale de Natation Amateur (FINA) was founded in 1909.
Internationally, competitive swimmers became prominent with their inclusion in the modern Olympic Games from the start in 1896. Olympic events were originally only for men, but women’s events were added in 1912. Before the formation of FINA, the games included some unusual events. In 1900, for example, when the games’ swimming events were held on the river Seine in France, a 200-meter obstacle course involved climbing over a pole and a row of boats and swimming under them. Such oddities disappeared after FINA took over responsibility. According to the FINA rules, for both Olympic and other world competitions, the race lengths were measured more and more in meters, and in 1969 the world record for farm-measured races was abolished. Permitted strokes were reduced to freestyle (crawl), backstroke, breaststroke and butterfly. All four strokes were used in individual medley races.