Swimming History

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Amanda Rector
September 24, 2012
English 12
Gina Beach
Evolution of Swimming
Swimming was practiced by civilizations going back to the Egyptians. As long as there was a practice venue such as a river, stream, or pond, swimming is available to anyone willing to try (Clearly 52). Swimming has existed since the dawn of time for exercise and pleasure. Swimming has evolved into a popular fitness activity as well as a major competitive Olympic Sport, but what is some of the history behind this legendary sport?

Swimming has been recorded since prehistoric times; the earliest recording of swimming dates back to Stone Age paintings. Written references date from 2000 BCE. Some of the earliest references of swimming include the stories of Gilgamesh, the Iliad, the Odyssey, the Bible, Beowulf and many more (“History of Swimming”). Competitive swimming in Europe started around 1800, mostly using breaststroke as the primary stroke. In 1873, John Arthur Trudgen introduced the trudgen to Western swimming competitions, after copying the front crawl used by Native Americans. Swimming was part of the first modern Olympic Games in 1896 in Athens. In 1908, the world swimming association, Federation Internationale de Natation (FINA), was formed (“History. . .”). The butterfly stroke was developed in the 1930s and was at first a variation of breaststroke, until it was accepted as a separate style in 1952. Cave men from the Stone Age were found on the “Cave of Swimmers” and they seemed to depict breaststroke or dog paddle, although it is possible that the movements had a ritual meaning not relevant to swimming. The most famous drawings were said to be found in the Kebir desert and are estimated to be from around 4000 BCE (“History. . .”). In the Middle Ages swimming was initially one of the seven agilities of knights, including swimming with their armor on. However, also in the Middle Ages, people swam undressed and it soon became less popular as society became more prudish in the early modern period. In 1539, Nicolas Wynman, a German professor of languages, who wrote the first swimming book Colymbetes. His purpose was to reduce the dangers of drowning (“History. . .”). The book contained good methods on how to swim breaststroke, and mentioned different swimming aid such as an air filled cow bladder, reed bundles, and cork belts. England is considered the country that popularized organized swimming, the first manual of swimming instructions was Everard Digby’s De Arte Natandi, published in 1587 (Clearly 51). In 1587, Everad Digby also wrote a swimming book, claiming that humans could swim better than a fish. Digby regarded the breaststroke as the most useful form of swimming. In 1603, the first national swimming organization was established in Japan. Emperor Go-Yozei of Japan declared schoolchildren should know how to swim (“History. . .”). Swimming is an activity that everyone can participate in. Humans are natural swimmers, and better at it than even fishes themselves. As it is instinctual, it is also a perfectible skill, and Digby’s manual attempts to reclaim for swimming the status it should have as an expression of humanity’s better nature, with instructions and diagrams explaining how to “swim like a dog” and wondrously, “swim like a dolphin.” Able to be structured and systematized, swimming represents a suite of skills whose acquisition represents the perfectibility of human nature, and the best of human achievement (Clearly 52). In Puritan communities the leaders, such as the elders or religious leaders, suggesting that swimming was not an organized activity needing specific skill set to master, but rather a form of play that occurred where and when “opportunity” allowed. Such opportunities were subject to the Sabbath laws in Connecticut and Massachusetts, with each state’s respective Acts and Laws identically declaring “all. . . Justices of the Peace, Constables, and Tything-Men are required to take effectual Care and endeavour...
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