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Recreations and Competitions

From picturesque white sand beaches and their crystal waters to the Olympic pools used by some of the world’s top athletes, swimming combines elegant recreation with demanding competition. 

Stone Age pictures from 10,000 years ago depict swimming as do early literary texts, including The Odyssey, written by Homer and Beowulf, in which the protagonist disputes claims that he was bested in a swimming match by his friend Breca. 

Competitive aquatics took shape in the early 19th century. In 1828, St. George’s Baths in Liverpool opened the world’s first public swimming pool, and within the next 40 years several variations of strokes were introduced and practiced. In 1869, the Amateur Swimming Association was founded (it has since been rebranded as Swim England) and continues to host competitions and seminars, endeavoring to support every athlete, regardless of skill or age, in competitive or recreational aquatics. During the 1896 Athens Olympic Games, the sport expanded internationally. Sixteen years later, women participated in swimming events at the 1912 Olympic Games.

On July 19, 1908, an international swimming federation (FINA) was founded to administer and modify international aquatic competition. FINA’s World Championship pools are 50 meters in length, 25 meter in length, with a minimum depth of two meters. The lanes, two and a half metres wide, are marked as lanes 0 through 9 (or in some instances, 1 through 10).
Olympic competition hosts 16 different swimming competitions for men and women. The freestyle swim has distances of 50, 100, 200, 400, and 1500 meters, and the backstroke breaststroke, and butterfly swims have distances of 100 and 200 meters. Swimmers in the medley event compete in lengths of 200 and 400 meters. The freestyle relay event has distances at 100 and 200 meters, and the medley relay has a distance of 100 meters. 

Swimming isn’t just limited to pools and open water; it provides thematic elements in many literary works. In Women In Love, D. H. Lawrence employs the imagery of swimming to conjure sentiments of excitement and liberation. The poet Lord Byron reveals what can be lost or gained during challenging swims in his poem "Written after Swimming from Sestos to Abydos." In these instances and so many more, swimming proves that  obstacles and reprieves ebb and flow for all participants. 

By Logan Williams

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