Ever since ancient humans first encountered water, people have been swimming. At first, we swam for travel or to catch food. However, as time progressed and mankind grew more civilized, swimming evolved from a necessity, to a recreational activity, and eventually to a true sport. One of the oldest recordings in the history about swimming can be found in the “cave of swimmers” near Egypt. Scrawled on the cave walls are images, dating back to approximately 10,000 years ago, of people doing the breaststroke and dog paddle. During the middle ages, knights considered swimming as one of their essential “seven agilities”.

The earliest known practice of swimming as a competitive sport dates to as early as 36 B.C. when the Japanese held some of the first swimming races. In the early 1800s, swimming was being practiced as a sport in London’s huge artificial pools. However, a group of American freestyle swimmers with their unconventional swimming styles shamed the British by besting their top breaststroke swimmers. By the time the first modern Olympics began in Athens in 1896, swimming had evolved again to incorporate the best of both worlds and swimming history was made as the sport was introduced as an international competitive event.

Those first Olympics hosted the 100m, 400m, and 1200m freestyle competitions as well as a special 100m event only open to the Greek Royal Navy. The second Olympic Games in 1900, held court to some unusual swimming events involving obstacles, underwater endurance, and a 4000m event. These more unorthodox competitions have not been held at any Olympic Games since. Also, due to some lingering attitudes from the Victorian era that women were too fragile for competitive sport, women were disallowed from swimming in the Olympic Games in 1896 and 1906. However, by 1912, the International Olympic Committee, still in its early stages, made the official decision that women were as much athletes as the men and another new page in swimming history turned.

From those first games, swimming as a sport has exploded onto the world stage and into the Olympic Games that we know today. The modern Summer Olympic Games host 32 swimming races, 16 each for the men and women. Here in the United States, swimming has become a major sport in schools, colleges, and sports centers across the country. In addition to competitive events, swimming is also a great way for young people to build themselves into stronger, healthier, and more disciplined citizens. Young swimmers meet up with coaches every day and go through intense training to represent their school, swim club, and themselves. These young athletes hope to someday represent their country in future Olympic games and earn their own spot in the history of swimming.