Modern History of Swimming

"Crawling Around the Pool"

The "Crawl" Emerges
Despite any impression Flying Gull and Tobacco may have made with their "windmill thrashing," the English continued to use the breaststroke. They swam it in the traditional manner, with the arms underwater, pulling out and back from the chest, coordinated with a frog kicking motion.

In a time when endurance exploits were prized higher than races against time, the supreme test was the English Channel - the Channel was considered impossible to swim. On August 24, 1875, Captain Matthew Webb. On 24 August 1875 he slipped into the water at Dover, England, and 21 hours and 45 minutes later touched land at Cape Gris Nez, France, becoming the first man to conquer the English Channel. Swimming the English Channel became the greatest swimming challenge of the day.. Relying mainly in the breaststroke, he swam some 38 miles in covering a straightline distance of about 20 miles.

It was 31 years before another successful crossing by Burgess. Sullivan was the first American. The present record for the swim is 10 hours 50 minutes, set in 1950 by an Egyptian, Hassan Abdel Rehim. While Flying Gull and Tobacco failed to make English swimmers speed conscious, some South American Indians - indirectly - succeeded. During a trip to South America, J. Arthur Trudgen noticed that the Indians generated much more speed in the water with their overhand stroke than he had produced with the breaststroke as an amateur swimmer in England.

But he apparently failed to note that this overhand stroke was coupled with a distinctive up-and-down kicking motion. Historians dispute the time of Trudgen's trip, dating it anywhere from the 1870's to the 1890's. But most importantly, upon his return to England, Trudgen began teaching others the new arm movement. Even though swimmers continued using the frog kick of the breaststroke, the overhand arm action gave them significantly more speed and power. Using the Trudgen stroke - as it came to be called - swimmers whittled the record for the 100 yards down from about 70 seconds to 60 seconds.

Just before the turn of the century, another Englishman, Frederic Cavill and his family-which included six sons, made a trip to some of the islands of the South Seas. Like Trudgen, he noticed that the natives used an overhand stroke. But Cavill was more observant; he realized that their kicking action was also different, and he closely studied it.

Asked to describe the revolutionary style, one of the Cavills said it was "like crawling through the water." Gradually it became known as the crawl, and only somewhat modified is the freestyle stroke used today, the basis of swimming competitions. Charles M. Daniels, who had been the U.S.'s leading swimmer, studied the new stroke and eventually came up with his "American" crawl. Daniels went on to win four gold medals in the Olympic Games and shaved the world record for the 100 yards to 54.8 seconds in 1910.

A few years later, when Duke Kahanamoku of Hawaii began out-swimming all international competition, someone asked who had taught him the crawl stroke. Kahanamoku, winner of the Olympic 100-meter race in 1912 and 1920, replied, "No one." He had learned the crawl as a child by watching how the older natives of his home island swam, where, he said, the stroke had been used for "many, many generations." Kahanamoku set his records using a six-beat cycle, which is now considered the classical freestyle form. Each complete cycle of his arms (entering the water, pulling and recovering) was accompanied by six flutter kicks

The basic, six-beat cycle crawl of Kahanamoku's and Weissmuller's day has changed little; Don Schollander of the United States was using it when he splashed to four gold medals at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. At the first modem Olympic Games in 1896 only the freestyle events were held, with the competitors relying on various interpretations of the breast or Trudgen stroke.

The Backstroke

In 1900 a backstroke event was added, and with the crawl becoming the dominant freestyle form, the breast stroke was made a separate competition in 1904. Women's freestyle races were first included in the 1912 Games, and eventually their events grew to include all the regular competition strokes. The breaststroke was done in the traditional manner until the early 1930's, when some swimmers discovered that they could get an extra boost going into the turns by digging into the water with a double overhead arm stroke.

The coach at Iowa University of the United States, Dave Armbruster, and one of his swimmers, Jack Seig, toyed with this "butterfly" arm action and developed a new kick to go with it called the "dolphin" - a sort of undulating motion from hips to the toes. Originally, the butterfly was a novelty, as it was considered too tiring to swim for any distance. But it proved to be considerably faster than the conventional breaststroke, and by 1938 swimmers using the butterfly arm action, often combined with the usual frog kick, were dominating breaststroke races. Eventually, in 1953, they were made into separate competitions; the breaststroke became known as the "silent stroke," for swimmers found that they could make much better time underwater than on top. It was faster, but hard on the lungs.

Breaststrokers stayed underwater as long as possible, and some either passed out or finished races rather blue in the face. A few years later, the rules were again changed, so that the breaststroke had to be swum with the head out of the water.

The Butterfly

The butterfly was first raced as a separate Olympic competition at the 1956 Melbourne Games, and today is usually swum using the dolphin kick.

Since its first appearance at the 1900 Olympic Games, the backstroke has changed little. It is the only swimming competition that starts with a push off the wall of the pool instead of a dive. Its leg action is essentially an upside-down variation of the crawl's flutter kick, with the arms reaching up and out of the water. Adolph Kiefer, who dominated backstroke swimming from 1935 to 1945, got his thrust by pulling with his arms held straight in the water.But recently Australian backstrokers discovered that they could get more horizontal thrust by slightly bending the arm as it came around underwater, and their style has been generally adopted by other swimmers.

Training techniques continue to improve, along with equipment to monitor performance and training, competitive swimming today continues to set new records with no real end in site as to what the limitations are.

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