Sunday, 9 August 2015

Solomon Islands - Swimming in the Pacific

As part of my research into the Solomon Islands, I read Solomon Time (2002), Will Randall's account of the time he spent in New Georgia, where he attempted to run a sustainable chicken farm with a local community in Rendova. 

Although Randall's book wasn't packed with facts or interesting insights into the culture of New Georgia, it was an amusing read and a rare 'western' view of one of the world's most forgotten corners. 

Something I learned from his book, that I hadn't been aware of before, is the fact that the modern 'front crawl' in competitive swimming can trace its origins back to the style of swimming practised in the Roviana lagoon.

The Solomons Crawl

Freestyle by Michael Knight
Also known as the 'Australian crawl', this swimming technique was fully developed by the famous Cavill brothers, who had observed a young Solomon Islander who was living in Sydney, called Alick Wickham, using this swimming style. They refined the style and made it into a modern competitive sport. 

Interestingly, although versions of the front crawl have been around since ancient times, competitive swimmers in Britain, where the sport was first regulated in the 19th century, mostly used the breaststroke, which involves bobbing your head in and out of the water to get air. 

The first time people in Britain saw a competitive version of the front crawl was during a swimming race held in London in 1844, where native Canadian swimmers, from the Anishinaabe nation of Ontario, demonstrated this technique.

Styles of swimming

Butterfly by Michael Knight
There are three major swimming strokes that are recognised by FINA (La Fédération Internationale de Natation), the body that regulates competitive swimming for the Olympics, but these don't include the front crawl, which usually features during freestyle events. 

Competitive swimming events have taken place during the Summer Olympic Games since the modern games were founded in 1896. The first four games had swimming in outdoor bodies of water.  Freestyle swimming featured in the first modern Olympic games (Athens 1896) and eventually the three FINA-regulated styles were introduced, as separate competitions for backstroke (Paris 1900), breaststroke (St Louis 1904) and butterfly (Melbourne 1956). 

The butterfly (or dolphin) stroke was also developed by an Australian, Sydney Cavill, who was from the same family as the brothers who developed the front crawl.

Olympic champions

Freestyle swimmer by Michael Knight
I was surprised to learn that a Hungarian, Alfréd Hajós, became the world's first (male) Olympic champion. Hungary still ranks fourth in the world, in terms of winning Olympic medals in swimming - curious for a country that is landlocked, although I suppose they do have a fantastic lake in the middle of the country!

I also learned that women weren't allowed to compete in the first modern Summer Olympic games in Athens in 1896.  Women first competed at the Summer Olympics in Paris in 1900, but didn't compete in swimming events until the Stockholm Olympics of 1912.  

Solomon Islands first participated in the Olympics as a new nation in Los Angeles in 1984. They haven't yet won any medals and they haven't competed in swimming events, concentrating more on Athletics and Weightlifting.

Swimming in the Pacific

 FINA World Championships in Kazan
The Oceania Swimming Association (OSA) is the governing body for swimming competitions in the Pacific region. I don't think Solomon Islands participates in OCA events, which seems a shame considering the legacy of the front crawl swimmers from Roviana lagoon. 

FINA also runs its own world championships and, by coincidence, the 16th FINA World Championship is concluding today in Kazan, the capital of Tatarstan in the Russian Federation. There are 190 nations taking part in the 16th FINA championship but, unfortunately, Solomon Islands isn't one of them. 

Perhaps not surprisingly, Australia and New Zealand dominate Oceanic swimming events, however, Papua New Guinea has a strong swimmer, Ryan Pini, the first Papuan swimmer ever to reach an Olympic final. Fiji and Samoa have hosted international swimming events, but neither of these nations have ever won a medal at the Summer Olympics.

Bizarrely, Fiji also competes in the Winter Olympics and has sent skiing competitors to the Winter Olympics in Calgary (1988), Lillehammer (1994) and Salt Lake City (2002).

Image credits:

For this blog post, I've used images by US-based photographer and Flickr member, Michael Knight. Thanks Michael for sharing these images with us, using the Creative Commons license.  You can see more of Michael's photos on his website.  

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