History of Open Water Swimming

Lord Byron

The first Swimmer

The modern age of open water swimming started way back in 1809, when Lord Byron swam various miles to cross the Hellespont (now Dardanelles) which stretched from Europe to Asia.

What is the story of the Hellespont swim?

Hero and Leander’s story is a Greek Mythological tragedy of two star-crossed lovers who lived on opposite sides of the strait. Leander would swim the Hellespont every night to be with his lover, guided by a torch held by Hero, and then swim back the following morning.

Lord Byron also crossed the Tagus River.

“I swim in the Tagus all across at once, and I rides on an ass or a mule, and swears Portuguese, and have got a diarrhoea and bites from the mosquitoes. But what of that? Comfort must not be expected by folks that go a pleasuring.”

Lord Byron, 1809

So said the English poet Lord Byron after his successful crossing of the River Tagus in Lisbon, Portugal back in 1809

In the year 2000, the Olympic Games first introduced a triathlon with 1500 mt. Swim leg, and in 2008, a 10 km open water swim was held.

Open Water Swimming in Portugal

Text by José Freitas – CHLORUS

Swimming, more or less organized, appeared in Portugal, on the initiative of the Real Ginásio Clube Português, which in 1902 inaugurated a school in Praia da Trafaria, located on the south bank of the Tagus.

At that time, this beach was used by the family of the Royal House to spend their time at the beach, which at the same time organized their swimming lessons. At that time, King D. Carlos was the main driver.

These schools were later transferred to a 60-metre tank, which exists at Colégio da Casa Pia de Lisboa, located in Cerca dos Jerónimos, a little further down Ermida dos Jerónimos, in Restelo, where the Restelo Stadium is today.

Place that in the year 1925 served for the first Portugal-Spain, of preparation of the Portuguese swimmers with a view to the Olympic Games of 1928.
It was in October 1906, even before the foundation of the Swimming League, that the so-called first National Championship was held at Praia da Baía do Alfeite, which consisted of the Half-Mile race, proof that at the time it was seen as great challenge to the swimmers’ athletic ability, which only at sea would be tested.
King D. Carlos, passionate about water sports, including swimming, made a point of being always present, he was even the biggest sponsor of these initiatives, offering prizes to all those who completed the race.

Eight clubs were represented with 10 swimmers: Real Velo Club do Porto – Artur Rumsey; Mário Duarte Club (Aveiro) Mário Duarte; Figueirense Club Gym – António Sousa Monteiro; Royal Naval Association – Manuel Ávila, Fernando Costa; Portuguese Naval League – João Lima Mayer; Real Clube Naval – Carlos Lacombe; Ateneu Comercial -Francisco Marçal; Real Ginásio Clube and Portuguese- Eduardo Sherley and Álvaro Lacerda.

On the day of the race, steamers from Lisbon were made available to the public, provided by the company that owns the routes from Lisbon to the south bank, in addition to numerous private boats that helped to create an atmosphere of a great day of celebration, in Alfeite Bay. The King himself saw the Half Mile race aboard his yacht. The match was played at beach-sea time, always vigorously, with several changes and with good rhythm. The triumph was achieved by the northern swimmer Rumsey. Followed by António Monteiro and Francisco Marçal.

In the end, King D. Carlos was so enthusiastic about the spectacle that he invited all swimmers to another race, but this one to be held at sea and with a distance of Mile and a Half, to be held in Cascais.

Only two swimmers took part in this competition, Rumsey and António Monteiro, Ginásio Figueirense, who jumped into the water at Praia do Forte Velho in Estoril, being accompanied throughout the course by a large number of boats that gave a lot of life to the competition, the most long history of swimming at the height. The arrival was in Cascais, with Artur Rumsey far ahead of his only opponent António Monteiro, both applauded for a huge attendance that gathered on the beach.
The monarch, very excited by the feat of both, offered them a Pin of Brilliants and Sapphire.

After this race, there was a very long interruption, with only competitions held on the docks, on the Lisbon, Tagus, Setúbal, Sado, Mondego, Coimbra Leixões and Douro rivers. In this period of interregnum, Porto enthusiasts launched a challenge to people from Lisbon, to hold the 500 meters race in Leixões every year, the first edition of which was in 1907. From this date, the Swimming League was created. After the birth of the League there was an interregnum until 1917, the year in which it started again, extending forever, whose achievements were carried out throughout the country, where there was enthusiasm for the modality.

The cities of Lisbon, Porto and Coimbra were a launching pad for tests on their rivers. As there were no swimming pools, the docks and rivers were the learning sites for hundreds of people at a time. Thus, the great crossings were born in several places: Porto, Lisbon, Coimbra and Setúbal.

10 October, date of the establishment of the Republic

It was at this time that the Swimming League was created, there was an interregnum until 1916 when it started again, extending forever, whose achievements were carried out in different places in Lisbon, on the Junqueira wall, and in Porto, on the Leixões dock , with events of 500m, these were the ones that opened the seasons at the time. It was a way of advertising the sport.

The city of Lisbon took advantage of its docks affluent to the Tagus River where the Bom Sucesso, Belém, Santo Amaro, Alcântara, Jardim do Tabaco and Xabregas swimming schools were started. In the city of Porto, the tests began on the Crossing from Campanhã to Foz and the width of the river between Gaia and Ribeira.
Swimming in Porto had a very important figure, as a swimmer and leader, patron Alfredo Rumsey, the man who developed the sport in Porto and founder of FCP.

Rodrigo Bessone Bastos

first long distance swimmer in Portugal

In 1916, his crossings became famous. He won the first crossing of the Douro, which was the biggest sporting event in the city with an 8500m route between Campaign and Foz, with many thousands of onlookers and fans of the sport, some of them on foot along both banks. Before this race, Tony’s grandfather had his first victory crossing Bugio to Santo Amaro.
Our first great long-distance runner distinguished himself by winning the Travessia do Porto a Nado four times and a significant number of crossings of the Tagus.

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