Open Water History

Wherever there is a stretch of water, people seemingly have a primeval urge to swim across it. Man had always a passion for returning to the source of life. In terms of competitions, the Japanese can point to evidence that open-water races were held 2,000 years ago. In 1726, while on a boat trip down the River Thames in London, Benjamin Franklin stripped off his clothes and took the plunge, swimming from Chelsea to Blackfriars and performing tricks for onlookers as he went. Races off piers into the sea and in long rivers are recorded to have taken place in England as early as 1791.

Open water is both the youngest and oldest of FINA's disciplines. In Athens, 1896, a 100 metres (or thereabouts) race between three Greek sailors across the Bay of Zea near Piraeus (not far from a place where cave drawings offer evidence of an ancient sport) started with rivals jumping from a rowing boat. The winner was Ioannis Malokinis in 2:20.4. The open event, not restricted to the Greek Navy, was much faster: Alfred Hajos, of Hungary, was the first Olympic swimming champion in a time of 1:22.2. That historic moment unfolded in front of 20,000 spectators. In Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, Open water is included in the Official Games Programme with the event of the 10km. The Fédération Internationale de Natation (FINA) was established in 1908, to be the governing body for the sports of swimming, water polo, diving, synchronized swimming and open water swimming, currently including 203 national federations.

FINA Centenary Book, by Craig Lord, published in 2008 for the occasion of the 100 Years of FINA