Throughout the 20th century, technology progressed at an astonishing rate. What many people forget is that our physical capacities also increased exponentially. Because of this, examining the history of sports, such as swimming, can demonstrate the great leaps that occurred over this century. The Olympics, where athletes go to compete at the highest level, is one venue in which several unusual facts have emerged.
The United States Olympic team has an astounding record of wins in the games; only the American track and field team has won more medals. In fact, in 1948, the American team won every swimming event in the competition. In men's swimming, which has been an included sport since the first modern games in 1896, American men have won 90 gold medals, while American women swimmers, who were allowed to compete for the first time in 1920, have won 63 gold medals.
Four years after the addition of women's swimming to the Olympic Games, Sybil Bauer broke an existing men's record -- the first women to do so -- with her time in the 200m backstroke. Since then, Mary Meagher has been the swimmer to hold the most current world records for the longest amount of time, having broken the record for the 200m butterfly in 1979 and broken it herself four subsequent times. Tracy Caulkins is the only person to have American records for each stroke. However, women have not always shone at the Olympic Games; in the 1984 Olympics, for example, not a single world record was set.
Olympic athletes are known for pushing through physical barriers to break records. However, several male swimmers have taken this concept to the extreme. In 1960, Felix Farrell competed in the trials for the Olympics six days after having his appendix removed. He qualified for freestyle relays, in which his team eventually set world records. Twelve years later, swimmer Steve Genter's lung collapsed shortly before his freestyle competitions; nevertheless, competing against medical advice, he still won a silver in the 200m freestyle and a bronze in the 400m freestyle.
Though many Olympic athletes go on to careers as sports commentators or coaches, others take a different route. Olympic medalist Buster Crabbe, who won bronze and gold in the 1910 Olympics, eventually appeared in 175 films. Similarly, Olympian Johnny Weissmuller starred in 12 movies about Tarzan.
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