Australia and Olympic Swimming
The first Australian Olympic swimmer was Freddy Lane in Paris 1900. Swimming in the River Seine, Lane won the 200 metres freestyle and the obstacle race over the same distance. The next gold medals came in Stockholm 1912 when Sarah “Fanny” Durack and Wilhelmina “Mina” Wylie finished first and second in the inaugural women’s swimming race, the 100m freestyle. The Australasian team comprising Australians Cecil Healy, Harold Hardwick and Leslie Boardman and New Zealander Malcolm Champion won the men’s 4 x 200m freestyle relay.
In Paris 1924 Andrew “Boy” Charlton shattered the world record on the way to becoming the first of a long line of Australians to win the 1500m freestyle. Eight years later, Clare Dennis became the first Australian to win a medal in a non-freestyle swimming event when she won the women’s 200m breaststroke in Los Angeles 1932. The next gold medal came twenty years later in Helsinki when John Davies won the 200m breaststroke.
Melbourne 1956 saw Australia become the world’s top swimming nation by winning eight gold medals, including every freestyle event. The men’s winners were Jon Henricks (100m), Murray Rose (400m and 1500m) and the men’s 4 x 200m relay team of Henricks, Rose, John Devitt and Kevin O’Halloran. In the women’s events, Dawn Fraser won the 100m, Lorraine Crapp won the 400m and the team of Fraser, Crapp, Faith Leech and Sandra Morgan won the 4 x 100m relay. David Theile won the first of his two 100m backstroke gold medals. In Rome 1960 Fraser, Theile and Rose, in the 400m, repeated their Melbourne victories. John Devitt won the 100m freestyle and Jon Konrads the 1500m freestyle.
Swimming has featured in every edition of the Games since 1896. Early Olympic events were conducted in freestyle (crawl) or breaststroke. Backstroke was added as of 1904. In the 1940s, breaststrokers discovered they could go much faster by bringing both arms overhead together. This was soon banned in the breaststroke, but became the butterfly stroke, which is now the fourth stroke used in competitive swimming.
Men and women now compete in 17 events each, involving four different strokes across a range of distances. Freestyle races cover 50m, 100m, 200m, 400m, 800m (women only), 1500m (men only) and 10km. The butterfly, backstroke and breaststroke races each cover 100m and 200m. All four strokes are used in the 200m and 400m individual medley events. The 4 x 100m freestyle, 4 x 200m freestyle and 4 x 100m medley relays complete the program.
Each race has a maximum of eight swimmers. Preliminary heats in the 50m, 100m and 200m lead to semi-finals and finals based on the fastest times. In relays and individual events of 400m or more, the eight fastest finishers in the preliminaries advance directly to the finals.