Whether it be for recreation, fitness, getting that summer tan, or getting that much-needed relaxation time, a pool is a place, very few of us would say no to visiting. Having depended on seafood for pretty much our species’ entire existence, the ability to swim has played and continues to play a crucial role in our survival. Is it then a surprise, that the basic ability to float and move in water, has been turned into a fierce competition that exemplifies and tests the limits of human athletic ability?
Competitive swimming has been identified to have been present in most early civilizations, with evidence from 1st century Japan, showing the presence of swimming races. Greek and Roman athletes were also said to have commonly participated in swimming races as part of military or formal training. Swimming as a sport in the modern era, dates back to 1830s England, with the first governing body, the Amateur Swimming Association of England, being formed in 1880. Men’s swimming became part of the first modern Olympic Games in 1896, in Athens, with women’s swimming following 16 years later. The international governing body of swimming, Federation Internationale de Natation (FINA), now known as World Aquatics, was formed in 1908.
Competitive swimming’s main goal is to break personal or world records while beating competitors in any given event. A competitor aims to create the least resistance, as they move through the water, in order to reach a maximum speed, that they then maintain throughout the course of their event. The swimming events of the Summer Olympic Games, have both Men and Women compete in 18 recognized events each, which are held in a 50-meter “long course” pool, except for the Marathon swimming event, which is usually held in an open body of water. These 18 events comprise a mixture of the 4 main strokes, considered to constitute competitive swimming, namely, Freestyle, Butterfly, Backstroke, and Breaststroke, with these 4 strokes being used to complete events of 100 and 200 meters for all the 4 strokes, and 50, 400, 800 and 1500 meters being used with the Freestyle stroke only. Competitors swim as individuals, or in teams of 4, which are known as “relay” races. Some swimming competitions have athletes competing in variations of these events, mostly involving the length of the event.
The most prolific swimmer, to date, is USA’s Michael Phelps, who is arguably the greatest Olympian ever. His total medal tally of 28 medals, including 23 gold medals, surpasses any others who have dared to come close to his achievements. His ability is especially noted when he is called the “King of Butterfly”, as his skill, technique, and prowess in what is often called the most challenging stroke, is clearly shown with him having bagged 7 Olympic medals, across the 100 and 200 Butterfly events.
Sri Lankan swimming has also come a long way since the first Sri Lankan to compete in the 1952 Olympic games, Geoffrey Marks, set the stage. After a colored history of Sri Lankan achievements in the Olympic, Commonwealth, Asian and South Asian Games, a few Sri Lankan greats have emerged. Julian Bolling is most notable amongst these, having represented Sri Lankan thrice in the 1984, 1988, and 1992 Olympic Games. He is also the previous holder of the record for the most Gold Medals in a single South Asian Games, which has now been broken, by another swimmer, Matthew Abeysinghe. Abeysinghe, a very young prospect himself, is already regarded as the greatest swimmer and one of the most accomplished athletes that Sri Lanka has ever produced, being a double Olympian, and a regular Gold Medal winner in the South Asian Games. He is the first Sri Lankan, to break the “50-second barrier” in the 100 meters Freestyle, and continues to hone his skills, while looking forward to Paris 2024.
It cannot be stated enough, just how much swimming is important to us islanders. And the competitiveness in the National Swimming circuit proves just that. From the school age-group Championships to the National Level Open competitions, swimming in Sri Lanka is one of the most honored and prized sports for many. It is against this backdrop, that the swimming events of SLUG 2023 take place. The competition is promised to be tough and extremely exciting.
Article by : Melaka Jude | Faculty of Medicine
Design by : Chamith Nilusha | Faculty of Engineering