swimming

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

swimming

swimming, self-propulsion through water, often as a form of recreation or exercise or as a competitive sport. It is mentioned in many of the classics in connection with heroic acts or religious rites. The first book on methods of swimming was Nicolas Wynman's Dialogue Concerning the Art of Swimming (1538). Swimming calls more muscles into play with exact coordination than most other sports, and its high repetition of movement makes it extremely beneficial to the cardiovascular system.

Swimming Strokes

Swimming strokes should create the least possible water resistance; there should be a minimum of splashing so that forward motion is smooth and not jerky. The stroke most commonly used to attain speed is the crawl, standardized in Australia (hence sometimes called the Australian crawl) and perfected in the United States. In the crawl the body is prone; alternating overarm strokes and the flutter kick are used, and the head remains in the water, the face alternating from side to side. The trudgen stroke (named for an English swimmer whose speed made it famous), also involves alternate overarm strokes in a prone position, but a scissors kick is used and the head remains on one side. The backstroke is done in a supine position and in racing requires alternate over-the-head arm strokes and a flutter kick. The elementary backstroke involves alternation of the frog kick with simultaneous strokes of the arms, which are extended at shoulder level and moved in an arc toward the hips. The sidestroke, a relaxed movement, entails a forward underwater stroke with the body on one side and a scissors kick. The breaststroke can also be a restful stroke and is accomplished in a prone position; frog kicking alternates with a simultaneous movement of the arms from a point in front of the head to shoulder level. The most difficult and exhausting stroke is the butterfly; second only to the crawl in speed, it is done in a prone position and employs the dolphin kick with a windmill-like movement of both arms in unison. It is mastered by only the best swimmers. The dog paddle, a very simple stroke that takes its name from the way a dog swims, is done by reaching forward with the arms underwater and using a modified flutter kick.

In freestyle swimming any stroke may be used, but the crawl, considered the speediest, is almost always favored. No matter what the stroke, breathing should be easy and natural, since the specific gravity of the human body, although it varies with the individual, is almost always such that the body floats if the lungs are functioning normally. In races, facility in diving from a firm surface is essential, except in the backstroke.

Competitive Swimming

Swimming became organized as an amateur sport in the late 19th cent. in several countries. Its popularity increased with the development and improvement of the swimming pool, and swimming was part of the first modern Olympic Games (1896). Olympic events for women were included in 1912. Today Olympic swimming events comprise the 50-, 100-, 200-, 400-, 800- (women), and 1,500-meter (men) freestyle races; 200- (men), 400-, and 800-meter (women) freestyle relay races; the 400-meter medley (mixed stroke) relay; 100- and 200-meter backstroke, breaststroke, and butterfly races; 200- and 400-meter individual medley races; springboard and high diving events (see diving, springboard and platform); water polo; and women's synchronized swimming. Improvements in swimsuits have contributed to faster times in many race events, most controversially in 2009 when polyurethane suits led to many new records at the world championships. Polyurethane were subsequently banned from competition; full-body suits were also banned. Among the more successful American Olympic swimmers have been John Weissmuller, Buster Crabbe, Esther Williams, Don Schollander, Mark Spitz, Matt Biondi, Janet Evans, and Michael Phelps. Among non-Olympic distance events, swimming the English Channel has been most publicized. The first confirmed crossing was made (1875) by Matthew Webb of England; Gertrude Ederle of the United States was the first woman to perform (1926) this feat. Swimming has never achieved sustained success as a professional sport.

Bibliography

See F. Oppenheim, The History of Swimming (1970); J. E. Counsilman, The Complete Book of Swimming (1977); D. F. Chambliss, The Making of Olympic Swimmers (1988).

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