Greek Olympic Déjà Vu In The Open Water

Greek Olympic Déjà Vu In The Open Water

Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California.

Back in 1896, Alfréd Hajós of Hungary won the 100m freestyle in 1:22.2 and the 1200m freestyle in 18:22.1 in rough 55°F (13°C) sea water at the first modern Olympic Games.

Thousands of spectators lined the Bay of Zea off the Piraeus coast to watch the 18-year-old Hajós win two gold medals.

Nikos Gemelos, the Greek national open water swimming coach, is helping commemorate this historic swim and area with a new 500m sea swim on May 30th. “We all who are lucky enough to live in the area of ​​Zea in Piraeus should know that region greeted the first modern Olympic Games and the first swimming events.”

But there is no information, landmark, statute or plaque to commemorate to both locals and visitors of the history of the sport.

The Bay of Zea was selected because it formed an amphitheater and enabled an estimated 20,000 spectators to watch the races along with thousands of others who watched from numerous boats anchored off the coast. The races were so popular that the authorities banned both umbrellas and large hats in order so the views of other spectators would not be blocked.

On April 11th 1896, the Aegean Sea was quite cold, an estimated 12-14°C as the 100m course was set between two buoys with a finish chute.

When Hajós won and stood on the podium, the first political statement of the modern Olympic Games began. In 1896, Hungary had not an autonomous nation and was part of Austria forming the then Austro-Hungarian empire. The Hungarians wanted to showcase their opposition and the local Hungarians sang their national anthem, trying to sing over the Greek band playing the national anthem of Austria.

But on May 30th, an international group of swimmers will come together as one and celebrate the first open water swimming competition of the Olympic Games.

Revival of the First Modern Olympic Games Open Sea Swimming Races
The Revival of the First Modern Olympic Games Open Sea Swimming Races is a 500m open water swim held in Piraeus. 119 years after the first modern Olympic Games, a commemorative open water swim will be revived in Pasalimani during the Maritime Days event. Athletes will be able to compete in the 500m freestyle event which was the first Olympic sport. The races are going to take place in front of Alexandras Square.

For more information and to register, contact

Historical Footnote:
In the modern Olympic Games, swimming events held in open bodies of water include the following:

* 1896 Athens Olympics (Games of the I Olympiad): Bay of Zea off the Piraeus coast, Aegean Sea, Greece
* 1900 Paris Olympics (Games of the III Olympiad): Seine River, Paris, France
* 1904 St. Louis Olympics (Games of the III Olympiad): Man-made pond near Skinker and Wydown Boulevards, St. Louis, Missouri, U.S.A.
* 1906 Athens Intercalated Games: Neo Phaliron Bay off the coast of Athens, Greece
* 2008 Beijing Olympics (Games of the XXIX Olympiad): Shunyi Olympic Rowing-Canoeing Park (顺义奥林匹克水上公园 or 順義奧林匹克水上公園 in Chinese), outside Beijing, China
* 2012 London Olympics (Games of the XXX Olympiad): Serpentine, London, UK
* 2016 Rio Olympics (Games of the XXXI Olympiad): Copacabana Beach, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
* 2020 Tokyo Olympics (Games of the XXXII Olympiad): Odaiba Marine Park in Tokyo Bay, Japan

Copyright © 2015 by World Open Water Swimming Association
Steven Munatones