The death of Australian swimming legend John Conrads and the news about the imminent vaccination of the Australian Olympic Team ahead of the Olympic Games in Tokyo are huge motivating factors for taking a glance at the history of swimming in Australia. Have you ever thought about the role of swimming in Australia? Is it just a surviving method for a country that is surrounded by sea or is there something more essential that defines it? The history of swimming in Australia is amazing and has originated numerous wonderful stories. Let's dive into the depths of history to discover the most dazzling ones.
The historical roots of swimming
Before we take a closer look at the Australian case, it would be essential to examine the history of swimming as a whole. Since the earth is an aquatic planet, where water covers more than 70% of its surface, humans should have had early contact with it since its first existence. The first relevant archaeological findings are 100 centuries old and were found in southwestern Egypt in the matter of rock paintings. They seem to represent the swimming technique of breaststroke. Archaeology has provided evidence suggesting that many other ancient civilisations were also related to swimming: Babylonians, Assyrians, Indians, Greeks and Romans were certainly engaged in swimming as was shown in wall drawings, tombs, mosaics and written references. The earliest complete bookabout swimming was written in 1538 by Nikolaus Wynmann, who was a Swiss-German professor of languages. Interestingly enough, the author's purpose was to reduce the dangers of drowning by stating a guideline for learning breaststroke. Other relevant books from other writers followed as time was passing, with most of them highlighting the importance of breaststroke. The “destiny” of swimming leapt forward in the 19th century when it became a competitive sport.
The Olympic history of swimming
It all started in England in 1828 when the public sees an indoor swimming pool for the first time in history. Very soon, regular swim competitions started to take place and new swimming techniques emerged together with the already known technique of breaststroke. The front crawl and sidestroke developed further the human capacity of swimming and it started to spread across more countries: Germany, France, Hungary, Austria, Scotland, Sweden and Norway adopted the new sport and began to hold swimming contests. It was thus no surprise that swimming was introduced in the first Olympic Games, held in Athens in 1896. Alfred Hajos, of Hungary, won the first gold medal in the 100 m freestyle. It's worth stating that in the first three Olympic Games, all swim races took place in open water and that they were male-only until the fourth tournament in 1912. There's not a better way to catch the spirit of that age, than reading what the first winner said, after swimming in the waters of the Mediterranean Sea, in Athens:” My will to live completely overcame my desire to win”, were the vivid words of Alfred Hajos.
The Australian heritage of swimming
Over time, the conditions of swim contests became naturally better. Indoor swimming pools were introduced in the Olympic games of London, in 1908, leading to a more sophisticated approach. The Australian participation in the global event began in 1900, in the second Olympic tournament that took place in Paris. The result was quite satisfactory: Two gold medals were won by Frederick Lane, the sole representative of the country. This was the beginning of an astonishingly successful period that continues until our days. Throughout history, Australiahas won 58 swimming gold medals at the Olympic Games. This record marks the country second in the whole world, behind only the USA who have won 217. It's, therefore, no surprise that swimming is justifiably the national sport of the country. Neither, strangely, so many world-class swimmers have emerged through time.
Famous Australian swimmers
From the time of the Aboriginals to the 21st century, a strong swim culture has developed and prevailed. Australia may be a geographically distant country, but its strong heritage and successes in swimming are well-known all around the world. Let's take a look a look at the most prominent figures of the sport:
- Ian Thorpe- The undisputable number one. He has won five Olympic gold medals, the most won by any Australian in history.
- Shane Gould- Three gold, one silver and one bronze medal, all won in her sole participation in Olympic Games -at the 1972 summer Olympics in Munich- put this great swimmer in the pantheon of Australian swimming
- Dawn Frazer-She won three consecutive golds medals in the Olympic Games from 1956 to 1964. She became the first swimmer in history who won a single event three times.
- Murray Rose-A six-time Olympic medalist, Rose was a legend of the sport. He won his first medals as a teenager, at the age of 17 at the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne.
- David Theile-The only Australian in history, who won consecutive gold medals in the 100-metre backstroke, at the 1956 and 1960 Summer Olympics.
The Tokyo challenge
What lies ahead, with the imminent Olympic Games in Tokyo this August, is yet another challenge for new triumphs. The rich tradition of successes is the beacon of inspiration for the present and future professional swimmers. From generation to generation, new stars emerge, lifting the national spirit and sparking continuous interest among the youngsters who wish to follow their steps. What is though even more important, is the level of swimming expertise of the whole population. The great swimmers of the past, present and future should be the ideal role models for all citizens to learn, at least, the basic survival skills, to diminish the possibilities of drawing incidents. That's when the great swim tradition and the needs of the mass population would harmonically coexist.