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The restorative power of water has always been recognized by ancient cultures in Rome and Greece. Swimming is an excellent aerobic activity and is safer on tendons and joints than most other activities. Swimming as a leisure activity became popular in the U.S. around 1887 when the first municipal pool was built in Brookline, Mass. The early 20th century saw a boom in the sport of swimming. What better way to spend a family holiday than at the beach or by the pool!

History of swimming

Swimming has been around since the dawn of time. Ancient Babylonian and Assyrian wall paintings show that swimming skills were present among humans nearly 6, 000 years ago. A study of ancient civilizations shows that the Egyptians, Persians, Romans and Greeks swam. Julius Caesar was known for his swimming skills. Mosaics from Mid-Eastern civilizations depict men swimming using a dog stroke. Though the Greeks practiced the sport, it was not included in the ancient Olympic games. Competitive swimming can be traced back to English clubs in the 1830s and it was the breaststroke that was in vogue then. In fact, it remained a popular stroke for leisure swimming. The first person to swim the English Channel in 1875 was Captain Matthew Webb. J. Arthur Trudgen developed what is now known as the Trudgen stroke.

Competitive swimming

In the mid 1800s, competitive swimming took root in England. The National Swimming Society of England organized regular swimming competitions and there were about six artificial pools in London then. The Amateur Swimming Association of Great Britain was formed in 1880 with a membership of more than 300 clubs. When Captain Webb swam from Dover in England to Cape Gris Nez in France, his swim of 21 hours and 45 minutes covering 38 miles created history. Competitive swimming in the modern Olympics began with the Greek Olympics at Athens in 1896.

Olympic swimming

When swimming was introduced at the Olympic games, there were 4 swimming events, three being freestyle. At the Paris Olympics in 1900, an obstacle course, underwater swimming and the 4,000-meter event were conducted. These events were never repeated again.
Speed is of the essence in competitive swimming. Alfred Hajos of Hungary won the first Olympic men’s swimming gold medal at Athens in the 100-meter freestyle. Johnny Weismuller of the USA won 5 Olympic medals and 36 national championships. He never lost a race in his career spanning 10 years. For 17 years, his record of 51 seconds for the 100-yard freestyle was unbeaten. Tracy Caulkins set world records in individual medley events. She held all the U.S. swimming records at the same time. Mark Spitz was the winner of the most number of gold medals in the 1972 Olympics at Munich. His haul of 7 gold medals was more than that of any other swimmer in Olympic history.
USA swimming

USA swimming is the National Governing Body for swimming. This organization regulates competitive swimming keeping in mind the guidelines laid down by the Amateur Sports Act. USA swimming provides the swimming community with various programs and services. The objective of USA swimming is to mobilize efforts at the local and regional level to expand membership and share the value of the sport, especially with young people. USA swimming has received accolades as the premier swimming nation in the world.

High school swimming

In the U.S.A, high school swimming is promoted by NISCA (National Interscholastic Swimming Coaches Association). All national rules for high school swimming are governed and overseen by the organization. Various State Interscholastic organizations conduct high school swimming events. High school swimming is categorized according to age groups. The time standards are set for each age group to ensure that swimmers of similar skill level are competing with each other.

College swimming

NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) oversees college swimming activities and tournaments. College swimming matches are either dual meets involving 2 teams or invitational events where several teams participate. The NCAA swimming championships are held each March and they determine the national individual champion for individual and team events. The NAIA (National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics and NJCAA (National Junior College Athletic Association) meets are conducted for smaller colleges and universities.

NCAA swimming

The dream of any college swimming team is to win the NCAA swimming national title. Auburn won the 2003 NCAA swimming championship. Aaron Peirsol won the Swimmer of the year award and Diver of the year was Clayton Moss of Kentucky.

The NCAA swimming ratings for the men’s teams for 2003
1. Auburn
2. Texas
3. Stanford
4. California
5. Southern California
6. Florida
7. Minnesota
8. Arizona
9. Michigan
10. Virginia

Women’s swimming

Women were allowed to participate in the 1912 Olympic games. The Women’s swimming Association of New York provided women the opportunity to train for national and international swimming competitions. Women’s swimming in the NCAA swimming events began in 1981. The first National Collegiate Women’s Swimming and Diving Championship was hosted by the University of Florida in March 1982. Texas and Stanford have been dominating the women’s swimming events winning 15 of the 16 championships between 1983 and 1998.

Swimming technique

The correct swimming technique allows you to gain maximum benefit out of the activity and not cause any injury to self. An incorrect swimming technique or posture can do more harm than good. A case in point being swimming with the face held out of the water as it puts undue strain on the neck muscles. Swimming with the correct technique can provide excellent mobility and prove to be a panacea for most modern-day stresses like high blood pressure, hypertension and arthritis. To improve on your swimming technique, recognize the faulty stance and posture. You need the help of an experienced coach to guide and instruct you on postural patterns and movements. The best swimming technique to learn a stroke is to break it into a series of separate stages and then integrate it with the whole.

Swimming strokes

Swimming strokes should ensure smooth forward motion with least possible resistance to water. The crawl is a common speed stroke used in Australia and the United States. The crawl is also referred to as the freestyle stroke. The crawl allows a swimmer to move very fast. This stroke is characterized by synchronized moving of hands and body to facilitate easy breathing. The breaststroke is a relatively restful stroke and involves coordinated movement of arms and legs. Did you know that breaststroke takes more strength and energy than other strokes? This stroke is swum more in and under the water. Swimmers using this swimming technique face more resistance from the water.

The backstroke is the only swimming stroke performed on the back and therefore the swimmer cannot see where he is headed. No special breathing techniques need to be applied for the backstroke since the swimmer’s head is above the water. The butterfly stroke is a difficult and exhausting stroke that is mastered by excellent swimmers. The butterfly is by far the most powerful and graceful stroke that is swum with an undulating motion. The dog paddle stroke is a simple one that mimics the way a dog swims. The key to achieving good strokes is correct technique coupled with the right breathing.

Swimming equipment

Various swimming equipment is used during swimming lessons to enable learners to overcome their initial fears and keep them safe. Children wear water wings or inflatable pads around their upper arms to keep afloat. Kickboards are buoyant boards to rest one’s arms while learning to swim. Other swimming equipment includes small firm boards fitted over the hands that force learners to pull their arms through the water correctly.

Competition swimming pools come in 2 basic sizes. The long course pools measure 50 meter (164 feet) in length whereas the short-course pools measure 25 meter (82 feet) in length. Most of the major competitive swimming events take place in the 50-meter pools. Such pools have 8 lanes that extend the full length of the pool. They are demarcated by floating plastic lane markers that also help in reducing turbulence. There is a line painted on the bottom of each lane that serves as a visual reference for the swimmer when he is swimming with his head down in the water. Electronic timing devices are used to record each swimmers time. There is also a timekeeper for each lane with a handheld stopwatch as a standby in case the electronic equipment fails. With the stiff competition in the swimming circuit, all timing is recorded to the hundredth of a second to record even small margins.
Swimming gear consists of a swimsuit made of lycra and swim cap and goggles. The swimsuit must be made of a material that allows for free range of movement. Swim caps not only protect the hair but also reduce the resistance when swimming through the water. Goggles protect the eyes from irritants found in pool water and also aid the swimmer to see better under water.

Swimming is an activity that works on most of the muscles of the body and at the same time provides aerobic and resistance benefits sans the stress on joints and tissues as in other impact sports. Water provides the ideal medium for cardiovascular workouts. Whether you swim at the competitive level or for leisure, there is little doubt about the exhilarating feeling that swimming provides.


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