Few things are more enjoyable than a swim in an icy, cold pool on a hot summer’s day. However, whether you swim for pleasure or sport, did you know competitive swimming events date back to the modern Olympics games in 1896?
The Bible also talks about swimming in Isaiah 25:11 with the use of an analogy of God pushing down the Moabites in the same way swimmers push down water with their hands. Humankind and swimming share a long and not always pleasant history.
Today swimming is an enjoyable way to exercise, a competitive sport, or even a lucrative career, but in olden days, it was a means of traveling across water or used for survival. With that in mind, lets examine some swimming facts for kids and see what we can learn.
Swimming Health and Safety Facts
Kids: ignore these swimming safety facts at your own risk!
Mother really does know best so when she warns you to always have a buddy or lifeguard with you when swimming and to stay in shallow water, it’s best to listen and to obey. After all, the life you save just might be your own. Here, in no particular order, are some fun facts about swimming health and safety.
1. Swimming is a heart healthy sport because you are moving against the water’s resistance, which means you are getting a workout equivalent to aerobics, weight lifting or running.
2. According to the Mayo Clinic, a 160 pound individual who swims laps for one hour burns 423 calories.
3. Swimming builds body mass which is important for building strong bones.
4. Swimming regularly gives your body a better workout than swimming for long periods. For instance, it’s better to take a short swim three times a week than a longer swim one time per week.
5. Swimming can be a solo or competitive event. You can compete against yourself and try to swim farther or faster than before, or you can compete against others.
Facts about Drowning
Ninety-eight percent of all drowning events occur in the summertime, and eight hundred children drown each year. Even though you are a child, there are many ways protect yourself and still enjoy swimming:
- Only swim when there is an adult or lifeguard present. Swim with a friend.
- Learn to swim.
- Wear Coast guard approved personal flotation devices (PFDs) if you don’t know how to swim and must go into the water.
- Respect fences and barriers around swimming pools and bodies of water.
- Learn first aid and CPR. You may need to help a friend someday.
- Keep a cellphone with you at the pool. Know how to dial 911 and how to ask for help.
- Do not dive unless the area is clearly marked as safe for diving. Get permission from an adult before diving.
Olympic Swimming Firsts
The first modern Olympics were held in 1896 in Athens, Greece with individuals competing in nine events, one of which was swimming. Alfred Hajos-Guttman won two gold medals; one for the 100-meter freestyle and one for the 1,000 meter freestyle, which earned him the title of the first Olympic champion in swimming.
Fun Facts About Olympic Swimming Events
In 1896 and 1906, Olympic swimmers swam in the Mediterranean sea rather than the pools like those used in today’s Olympic games. In 1900, they swam in the Seine, which is a river in the north of France.
- Four swimming styles are used in Olympic events: freestyle, breaststroke, backstroke, and butterfly. The freestyle and breaststroke were the first Olympic events with the backstroke introduced in 1904 and the butterfly stroke in 1956.
- The standard 50 meter pool was introduced in 1924 and diving blocks in 1936.
- The freestyle distance is different for women than for men. Women swim 800 meters while men swim 1500 meters.
- Prior to 1912, only men competed in Olympic swimming games. The Stockholm Olympics in 1912 featured the first women’s swimming events.
- Getting water into your eyes while swimming is no fun! Swimming goggles protect your eyes and make swimming more enjoyable, don’t they? However, Olympic swimmers were not allowed to use these swimming aids until 1976, when goggles were permitted at the Montreal Olympics.
- Olympic swimmers clad in polyurethane swimsuits, which purportedly reduce the friction in the water by compressing the swimmers’ muscles, broke 25 world records in 2008. These suits were subsequently banned by the Federation Internationale de Natation (FINA), which deemed them equivalent to “technical doping.”
Swimming the English Channel
Swimming the English Channel, which is often referred to as the aquatic equivalent of climbing Mount Everest, is a perennial favorite with individuals. While the traditional route is to start at Dover’s Shakespeare Beach and swim to Cap Gris Nez, like any sport, there are always those willing to be unconventional and start on the French side and swim to the English side. Let’s take a look at some famous records set by swimmers challenging this uncertain feat of athleticism. (English Channel image below)
Queen of the English Channel
Alison Streeter, aka “Queen of the English channel,” has successfully crossed the Channel 46 times, but that is far from being her own accomplishment as a swimmer. In 1983, she was the first British woman (as well as the youngest woman) to swim the Channel from England to France and back to England, which is called a double crossing.
In 1990, she was the first woman to complete a three way crossing. Other firsts for Streeter include crossing the Channel seven times in one year and being the first woman to swim the Irish sea. The bulk of her swimming is done to raise funds for charities, and as of 2006, she had raised over 120,000 pounds sterling (the equivalent of about $181,368 US dollars.)
First Man to Swim the English Channel
The first documented swim across the English Channel without the use of any type of floatation or buoyancy aid is credited to Matthew Webb, who accomplished this feat in 21 hours and 45 minutes in 1875.
Fastest Time Starting From the French Side
In 1923, Enrique Tirabocchi set two records for swimming the English Channel. He was the first person to swim the Channel by starting from the French side rather than the English side, and he completed his swim in 16 hours and 33 minutes. His record would be surpassed in 1926 by the first female to swim the Channel, Gertrude Ederle.
First Woman to Swim the English Channel
In 1926, Gertrude Ederle earned her place in history when she not only successfully swam across the English Channel but beat Tirabocchi’s existing record by nearly two hours. The grueling 35-mile swim in the icy, treacherous Dover channel waters took 14 1/2 hours from Griz-Nez France to Kingsdown, England. Ederle won three Olympic medals for swimming in 1924 – one gold and two bronze – and set 29 world and United States records for swimming during her career.
First Limbless Man Swims the English Channel
A former electrician, who lost all his limbs when hit by high voltage from a power line, earned his place in swimming history in 2010 when he successfully swam the English Channel with the help of specially designed prosthetic flippers. Amazingly, Phillippe Croizon made the swim in just over 13 hours.
Breaking records, being the first and being fastest is heady stuff for any athlete, but what about the people who don’t come in first? Strong currents and treacherous seas foiled Jackie Cobell’s 2010 attempt to cross the Channel, causing her to be recorded in swimming history as making the slowest English Channel swim at 28 hours and 44 minutes.
From the Bible to the Olympic games to swimming the English Channel and more, we’ve covered a lot of swimming facts for kids. Which facts did you like the best? What swimming first would you like to achieve in your lifetime?
- Allen, Peter, “Man with no arms and no legs crosses Channel 10 hours ahead of schedule,” Daily News, 09/2010
- Undisclosed author, “2006 Honor Open Water Swimmer”
- Gwynne, Peter, “Olympian Technology: Higher, Faster, Stronger,” Inside Science, 07/04/2012
- International Olympic Committee, “Swimming: participation during the history of the Olympic games,” 9/2011
- Undisclosed author, “5 Truths About Kids Who Drown, ” Safe Kids USA
- Mayo Clinic Staff, “Exercise for Weight Loss: Calories burned in one hour,” Mayo Clinic
Alfred Hajos by unknown author under public domain via Wikimedia Commons
English Channel image by NASA under public domain via Wikimedia Commons
Mediterranean sea image by Eric Gaba under public domain via Wikimedia Commons
Gertrude Ederle image by Bain News Service under public domain via Wikimedia Commons
Breaststroke image by Adrian Pingstone under public domain via Wikimedia Commons