The Online Library of Knowledge


Swimming and diving

A women's freestyle raceA women's freestyle race Swimming was not a competitive sport until the late 19th century. It has been part of the Olympics since the modern games began in 1896. Swimmers use one of four strokes—front crawl (known as freestyle in competitive swimming), breaststroke, backstroke or butterfly—to race against other swimmers, separated into lanes along the pool. The first modern diving competition was held in England in about 1880. It has been an Olympic sport since 1904. Divers jump from a platform or flexible springboard and perform acrobatics in mid-air before landing in the water.

A boy swimming butterflyA boy swimming butterflyClick to play video

Swimming strokes

Freestyle, or front crawl, is the fastest swimming stroke. Swimmers kick their legs while reaching one arm forwards with the elbow kept high, then repeat this movement with the other arm, pulling the water back. In breaststroke, swimmers bend their knees and then kick them out together in a V-shape (a "frog kick"). At the same time they push their hands forward and then sweep their arms back either side of the body.

In the backstroke, swimmers lie on their backs and kick with their legs held together. Meanwhile, one arm at a time reaches up past the head and sweeps back through the water. Butterfly swimmers flex their whole body in a wave-like movement with the feet held together in a "dolphin kick". The arms reach forward—both at the same time—to pull the water back.

Captain Matthew Webb was the first person to swim the 33 km (21 miles) of the English Channel between England and France, in 1875.

© 2020 Q-files Ltd. All rights reserved. Switch to Mobile