The history of butterfly swimming

The history of butterfly stroke started in the 1930s when it developed as a style of swimming breaststroke.

Swimmers and coaches began to realise that breaststroke was quicker when a swimmer recovered their arms forward above the water and the arm technique – as well as the swimming term ‘butterfly’ – was born.

While an overarm recovery was not unusual as a finishing stroke in breaststroke, American Henry Myers is said to be the first person to have used butterfly arms for a full length of breaststroke, unveiling it to the confusion of officials and competitors in a 150 yard medley race in 1933.

Shortly after, American swimming coach David Armbruster is credited with developing the recognisable butterfly dolphin kick to accompany the overarm recovery with one of his swimmers, Jack Sieg, using it to devestating effect in 1935.

While the dolphin kick was against world governing body FINA’s breaststroke rules, the butterfly arm technique continued to be used in breaststroke races until butterfly was established as an individual stroke by FINA in 1952.

The history of butterfly: The Olympic Games

Butterfly was contested at the Olympic Games for the first time in 1956, with a men’s 200m Butterfly event and women’s 100m Butterfly event in Melbourne.

The men’s 200m Butterfly and women’s 100m Butterfly have been held at every Olympics since then while the men’s 100m Butterfly and women’s 200m Butterfly were added to the Olympic schedule at the Mexico City Games in 1968.

Competitive butterfly distances at the Olympic Games.

While only the 100m and 200m Butterfly are contested at the Olympic Games, a 50m Butterfly event is held at World and continental levels.

England’s five-time world gold medallist James Hickman was a groundbreaking butterfly swimmer, holding the world short course record for 200m Butterfly for the best part of four years between March 1998 and January 2001.

Hickman also held the world short course 100m Butterfly record between December 1998 and September 1999.

English Olympic butterfly medallists

Just three English swimmers have won butterfly medals at the Olympic Games with Phil Hubble the first man to achieve the feat with 200m Butterfly silver in 1980.

Andy Jameson landed 100m Butterfly bronze in Seoul eight years later while Steve Parry was the last English swimmer to claim an Olympic butterfly medal with his 200m Butterfly bronze at the Athens 2004 Games.

  1. Moscow 1980 – Philip Hubble – 200m Butterfly silver
  2. Seoul 1988 – Andy Jameson – 100m Butterfly bronze
  3. Athens 2004 – Steve Parry – 200m Butterfly bronze