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Last Updated: Monday, 5 July, 2004, 13:43 GMT 14:43 UK
Swimming's big splash
Mark Spitz in action in 1972
Mark Spitz won a remarkable seven golds at the 1972 Munich Olympics
Swimming has been an integral part of the Olympics since 1896, and after athletics is the principle sport on show.

It fills the whole of the first week and invariably gives the Games the perfect platform on which to build on every four years.

There are numerous references to swimming in Greek and Roman history and races were held in Japan as early as the 17th century.

Byt the 19th century meets became organsied, culminating in a place at the first modern Olympics.

In 1896 there were three races open to men - 100m, 500m and 1200m - which were competed for in the sea in the Bay of Zea near Piraeus.

In 1900 an underwater swimming event was held. With obviously limited spectator value it swiftly sank without trace before the next Olympics
By 1908, the same year the International Federation (Fina) was set up, the event lists were broadened and included freestyle, backstroke and breastroke.

At those London Olympics events were raced in 100m long tank pool constructed inside the track at the White City Stadium.

The first women's event, the 100m, was added in 1912, and the meet finally moved to a pool in 1924

Since that time the Olympics has played host to a number of great swimmers, none more so than Mark Spitz.

The American won a record nine golds, a silver and a bronze in his two Games, including the well-documented magnificent seven in Munich in 1972.

In order to achieve the feat Spitz swam in 13 races in eight days, a feat matched by Shirley Babashoff in 1976, although she only won one gold in the freestyle relay.

In total Babashoff won eight medals to equal the mark Australia's Dawn Fraser set, although that has since been superceded by Jenny Thompson, the American having won 10 medals between 1992 and 2000, although none came in individual events.

Sixties superstar Fraser also became the first swimmer to win a hat-trick of titles in the same event, the 100m freestyle. That record was equalled by Hungary's Krisztina Egerszegi in the 200m backstroke between 1988 and 1996.

East Germany's Kristin Otto won six titles in Seoul, a female record for the most golds won at a single Games. She is also the only woman to have won golds in three different strokes - freestyle, backstroke and butterfly.

Matt Biondi equalled Spitz's record total haul of medals in the 80s, but today's international stable of swimmers will prove a big threat to that mark of 11.

In 1976 the USA men's medley team was so deep in strength that one relay team set a world record in the morning - then a completely different team broke it in the final
In a golden generation, Ian Thorpe will look to add to the three golds and two silvers he won in Sydney four years ago, although he will face stiff competition from the likes of Pieter van den Hoogenband and Michael Phelps, who is looking to emulate Spitz's sensational seven golds.

However, as well as the stars, the sport also has an Olympics rogues gallery.

The East German's admitted to a 1970s programme of steroid abuse in the 1990s and a host of Chinese female swimmers failed drug tests.

But the most famous drug story centred on Ireland's Michelle Smith de Bruin who won three gold medals in 1996, drastically improving her personal bests in the process.

To crush the scepticism towards the sport Fina have since got tough, increasing drug tests both in and out of competition, and the ban from international competition for use of steroids to four years.

With these regulations in place there has been a marked drop in the amount of swimmers called for drug abuse, and the view is the problem is almost under control.

MEDAL TABLE (Top five)
Country Gold Silver Bronze Total
Men (since 1896)
USA 111 85 55 251
Australia 29 27 35 91
Soviet Union 14 17 18 49
Hungary 14 14 11 39
Japan 12 17 11 40
Women (since 1912)
USA 82 53 49 184
East Germany 32 25 17 74
Australia 16 19 16 51
The Netherlands 12 14 12 38
Hungary 10 6 5 21

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