Hello swimming enthusiasts!
Today we are going to travel back in time to the 1912 Summer Olympics in Stockholm. Why this particular Olympics, you may ask? In fact, this was the first Olympics in which the swimming competition included female events.
Although in 1912, women were already able to compete in sports such as archery, golf, tennis, and yachting, the inclusion of swimming marked an important turning point and opened up the door for women in other Olympic sports as well.
The decision was made in 1910 in Luxembourg, when the International Olympic Committee (IOC) voted unanimously to open up swimming, gymnastics, and tennis to women.
While men had many options for swimming events, women were limited to two events: the 100-meter freestyle, and the 4 x 100-meter freestyle relay. In the 100-meter freestyle, Australasia’s Fanny Durack took the gold. If you are interested in learning more about her, you can read my post from November 2015, which focuses on Fanny Durack’s career. Great Britain took the gold in the relay.
Twenty-seven women ended up swimming in Stockholm, representing eight countries: Australasia, Austria, Belgium, Finland, Germany, Great Britain, Norway, and Sweden.
Interestingly, the United States was not one of these countries. Although at this time, women in America were beginning to have more of a presence in swimming, men in higher positions would not allow them to compete in the Olympics. Specifically, American sports official James E. Sullivan had control of both the American Olympic Committee and the Amateur Athletic Union. He firmly believed that women did not belong in formal competitions, and hindered the progress of women in sports.
There was no Olympic Games held in 1916 due to World War I. In 1920, however, women were finally able to swim. Although the American Olympic Committee was still not fully behind the idea, the women’s swim team manager Charlotte Epstein advocated for the group and explained that other countries were sending women to compete.
That year, fifteen American women swam in Belgium, achieving tremendous success. They took home all of the medals in the 100-meter and 300-meter freestyle events, and were respected and admired by Americans.
We have these women to thank for their confidence and courage in bringing the sport of swimming to female athletes.