History Of Swimming

Swimming History

Swimming is undoubtedly one of the most recognizable sports in the world, particularly from its inclusion in the Summer Olympics, which occur every four years. Athletes like Michael Phelps and Katie Ledecky consistently excite crowds and win medals, but many may wonder: when exactly did swimming start as a sport? Read on to learn all about the origins of swimming, from its beginnings in ancient times to the development of the modern sport.

When Did Swimming Originate?

Swimming has been an activity practiced throughout history, from the first humans until the modern day. Thousands of years ago, swimming had very practical purposes, such as finding food to avoid starvation, traveling from place to place, and bathing. 

Swimming was also a recreational and exercise activity throughout the ancient world. In fact, some of the first records of organized swimming trace the activity back to Ancient Egypt and the year 2500 BC. Swimming pools were used in Ancient Greece around 800 BC for bathing and exercise, and in Ancient Rome, around 100 BC, bathhouses and swimming pools were communal gathering places. However, despite these recreational practices, the modern sport of swimming, as it exists today, didn’t begin until the 1800s.

Modern athletic swimming is believed to have started in Great Britain, where the National Swimming Society was formed in 1837. The society held races in indoor swimming pools around Britain. Australia also deserves some mention, as they held some of the first swimming championships in the mid-1840s.

In 1896, the first-ever modern Olympics were held in Athens, Greece. Swimming was featured as one of the sports at these Olympics and has remained an Olympic sport ever since. At the time of the first modern Olympics, there were only four swimming events: two 100-meter events, a 500-meter event, and a 1200-meter event. 

One of the 1896 100-meter events was only for sailors in the Greek Navy and was first won by Greek sailor Ioannis Malokinis. The other winners of the first events were Alfréd Hajós (Hungary) and Austria’s Paul Neumann, with Hajós winning both the 100-meter and 1200-meter events. 

Who Invented Swimming?

No one person can be said to have “invented” swimming, as swimming itself started with the very first humans and is a natural activity that has been practiced for many centuries. As a sport, the National Swimming Society gets a lot of credit for being the “inventors” of modern swimming. They held competitions in Britain in the early 19th century, which eventually led to the development of the modern sport we see today, both in the Olympics and in local or school swimming competitions. 

In 1873, John Trudgen invented a new swimming stroke named the front crawl. The front crawl eventually became what is known as the freestyle today. The freestyle is now the fastest and most common stroke, so many people consider Trudgen to be a perennial figure in swimming, as he created one of the most basic and common techniques in the modern sport. 

When Was Swimming Established?

Swimming was established at different times in different countries. In Great Britain, swimming was first established in 1837. Their first swimming organization had six indoor pools, each with diving boards. 

In Australia, swimming originated in 1846. Australia held swimming championships and held subsequent competitions each year after. In the United States, swimming wasn’t established until 1888. 

The FINA, or the Fédération Internationale de Natation Amateur, was formed in 1908. This was the first-ever global swimming association. They laid out rules, regulations, and competitions for years to come and also governed the sport of diving and other aquatic sports. 

It was during the 1800s that swimming became popular. In this century, many modern-day sports were just starting up, and swimming is no different. However, swimming became popular much quicker than other sports. There were a variety of competitions and championships held right away, which created interest in the world of swimming leading up to the first modern Olympics. In 1896, the first modern Olympics took place, and swimming was a big success. This significantly increased the global popularity of swimming. The breaststroke was added for the 1904 Olympics. 

While swimming is popular all around the world, there are a few countries where it is particularly popular, including:

  • Britain
  • Australia
  • United States of America
  • Canada
  • Germany
  • China
  • Australia
  • Italy
  • Russia
  • Hungary
  • The Netherlands

Swimming History Key Facts And Timeline

  • 2500 BC: The first organized swimming occurs in Ancient Egypt.
  • 800 BC: The Ancient Greeks use swimming pools for bathing and exercise.
  • 100 BC: The Ancient Romans use swimming pools and bathhouses for communal recreation.
  • 1830s: Swimming competitions begin to be held in Britain.
  • 1837: The National Swimming Society is formed in Britain.
  • 1846: Australia holds its first championships.
  • 1873: Invention of the front crawl by John Trudgen.
  • 1888: The Amateur Athletic Union is founded in the United States of America.
  • 1896: The first modern Olympics occurs, with swimming as an included discipline.
  • 1900: The backstroke is added as an event at the Olympics.
  • 1908: The Fédération Internationale de Natation Amateur (FINA) is founded.
  • 1912: Women’s swimming events are added to the Olympics.
  • 1924: Swimming becomes an official NCAA sport.
  • 1956: The butterfly stroke is first introduced to the Olympics.
  • 1970: Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (CIAW) sanctions women's swimming.
  • 1976: Goggles begin to be used for Olympic swimming competitions.
  • 1981: Women’s swimming becomes an official NCAA sport.
  • 2008: Michael Phelps wins eight Olympic gold medals in swimming over the course of a single Olympic Games, a record-setting achievement.


When was swimming invented?

Swimming as a sport was invented in the early 1800s, by the future members of the British National Swimming Society. As early as the 1930s, swimming competitions were held in Great Britain, and the National Swimming Society was established in 1837. Humans have swum for transportation, hunting, and recreation for millenia.

What swimming events are in the Olympic Games?

In the most recent Olympic Games, held in Tokyo in 2021 (but representing the year 2020), there were 35 swimming events, 17 for men and 17 for women, as well as one mixed event. The single-sex events are: 50, 100, 200, 400, 800, and 1500-meter freestyle; 100 and 200-meter backstroke; 100 and 200-meter breaststroke; 100 and 200-meter butterfly; 200 and 400-meter medley; 4 x 100-meter and 4 x 200-meter freestyle relay; and a 10 kilometer open water event. The solitary mixed swimming event is a 4 x 100-meter medley relay. 

What athlete has won the most Olympic medals in swimming?

Michael Phelps has won the most Olympic medals in swimming, with a total of 28. Of those medals, 23 are gold, which is a record for most gold medals in swimming. Eight of the gold medals were won at Beijing in 2008, Phelps’ most successful Olympics. Phelps also holds three silver medals and two bronze medals. In addition to being a gifted athlete, Phelps had phenomenal longevity, earning multiple gold medals in four consecutive Summer Games between 2004 and 2016.