Updated 03 October 2013

5 odd facts about swimmers

Want to know a few new and freaky facts about swimmers? Look no further. Here are five facts you probably never knew about swimmers.


Everyone's watching the Olympics and SA swimmers have certainly provided some stunning moments. It’s not every day that you get to see professional swimmers in action, let alone find out a few weird facts about them and other swimming organisms.

Here are five facts you may not have known about swimmers.

The oldest swimming technique

The breast stroke is known to be the oldest swimming technique, dating back to the Stone Age. Proof of this is found in a cave near Wadi Sora, located southwest of Egypt. The cave, dubbed “Cave of Swimmers”, has depictions of man in the breast stroke position. According to Nicolas Winman wrote the first book about swimming in 1583 titled Colymbetes.The main swimming technique featured was the breast stroke.

The longest swim

Martin Strel is most famous for his long distance marathon swimming, and for holding multiple Guinness World Records. Nicknamed “the Fishman”, Strel has successfully swum some of the world’s longest and most dangerous rivers. In 2007 he swam the entire length of the Amazon River in record-breaking time. It took him 66 days to swim across the 5 268km long river. Each day he would only sleep for a total of five hours. His accomplishment has spawned a book and a documentary and has promoted the importance of preserving the Rain Forest.

Why they shave

Swimmers are famously known for having silky smooth skin, but why do they need to shave all their body hair? The effect of a hairless body gives the swimmer both a physical and a psychological benefit. Being completely shaven makes the swimmer slicker in the water which can better their swimming times. Shaving the body hairs also makes the swimmer more aerodynamic while in the water, however, shaving the hairs is not the real reason why they shave.

Swimmers actually shave to remove the layer of dead skin cells on the surface of the epidermis. After the removal of the dead skin cells, the skin becomes more sensitive and the swimmer then has a heightened “water sense”. Some professional swimmers are known to shave their hands and feet.

Spandex vs. Nylon

Most swimming suits are made of materials that hug the body, decrease friction and water retention and help prevent drag. Spandex is the best material for preventing drag, but it has a short shelf life. Prolonged exposure to chlorine, the fibers in spandex weaken and break. Nylon on the other hand is very chlorine resistant, but it doesn’t have the drag resistance that spandex has. Therefore swimmers often use nylon swimming suits when training and spandex suits when competing.

World’s fastest swimmer

The world’s fastest swimming organism is the sailfish. The sailfish can swim up to 110km per hour and because of that, it is considered a highly prized game fish. The sailfish resembles both the marlin and the swordfish. They have the ability to change their body colour in a manner that confuses prey, making them easier to catch. Its long and sharp bill has earned them the nickname of the billfish among fishing enthusiasts. The sailfish are also known for their spectacular ability for jumping out of the water.

(Kyle Boshoff, Health24, updated July 2012) 

(Images: iStock and Media24)

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