History of swimming

Swimming is one of the world’s oldest sports, and there is evidence of the sport being practiced in ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome. But it was not until the 19th century that organized swimming competitions began to take place on a regular basis. Swimming baths were opened in Liverpool, England, in 1828, and by 1837, London had six pools in which swimming contests were conducted.

Clubs began to form in Australia as well. On February 9, 1858, what is believed to be the first international race was held in St. Kilda, a suburb of Melbourne, Australia; Joseph Bennet from Sydney defeated Charles Steedman from England. The first major race in the United States, called a national championship, was run by the New York Athletic Club in 1883.

Three swimming events were included on the program at the first modern Olympic Games in Athens in 1896: the men’s 100 meters, 500 meters and 1200 meters. Women’s events added to the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm. Swimming is one of four sports that has been a part of every Olympics. Track and field, gymnastics and fencing are the others.

Top of the list

The most successful nation in Olympic swimming is the United States, and it’s not even close. The U.S. has won 519 swimming medals, a third of all the swimming medals ever awarded. The U.S. can thank one man for 22 of those medals: Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian of all-time. At the 2012 London Olympics, the Americans collected 31 total medals and nearly half of all the gold medals (16). Long-time rival Australia has claimed the second-most swimming medals in Olympic history. However, Australia had a poor performance at the London Games, earning only 10 medals, its lowest total medal haul in 20 years.

Chasing history

After winning four gold medals and one bronze in London, Missy Franklin enters the Rio Games with several record chances. If she wins six gold medals, as she did at the 2013 World Championships, Franklin would tie the single Games mark for women (in any sport), set by swimmer Kristin Otto (GDR) in Seoul in 1988. Ten career golds would also be a women’s Olympic record – Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina won nine in her career – and vault her to second on the all-time Olympic gold medals list behind only Phelps.