In 2008, man swims 100m freestyle 18secs faster than in 1908. From lake, river and ocean, the sport moved to pools of standard length. Along came heating, starting blocks, lane ropes that deaden waves and chlorine and goggles for clarity. In 1908, five nations dominated. Today, 30 nations race for medals.
Water polo took its lead from rugby football and was played in rivers and lakes. The original ball was made from a pig’s stomach and the early game often relied on brute strength. Today, strength still counts for much but the skills of players are mesmerising, the pace of the play breathtaking.
If the lakeside wooden tower and boards of yore barely compare to the modern diving arena, then skill levels down the years have grown to a degree of difficulty, and are today executed at such speed, that observers struggle to fathom the graceful and demanding feat unfolding before their eyes.
Australian Annette Kellerman was described as the first under-water ballerina when she performed in a glass tank at the New York Hippodrome in 1907. Through FINA evolution, ornamental swimming developed into an Olympic sport whose athletes must be not only skilful but supremely fit.
Modern marathon and open water events take us back to the source of life and the origins of swimming. The first three Olympic Games all held swimming in open-water environments. Pool and open water swimmers have join battle for the first Olympic marathon swim, over 10km, in Beijing in 2008.
Swimming and aquatic sports are for life. There was a time when swimmers, polo players and divers would be done well before they reached 30. In the 21st Century, elite swimmers are racing into their 40s thanks to the Masters Movement that makes health and fitness a lifelong habit.