Water polo was a sport just waiting to burst onto the scene, considering its rapid spread, not only in Britain but also abroad, although the International Swimming Hall of Fame took until 2003 to honour the inventor, William Wilson (1844-1912). Born in London and raised in Glasgow, Wilson was a keen advocate of daily open-air swimming, even in icy conditions, and as well as teaching swimming he was involved in the administration of swimming clubs in the Glasgow area.
A bizarre forerunner called ‘aquatic football’ was apparently attempted in the early 1870s, whereby swimmers had to use their feet to kick the ball, but when asked to think of a crowd-pleasing event for an annual swimming gala at River Dee in 1877, ‘aquatic hand-ball’ was Wilson’s solution.
Water polo, as it later became known, is said to be the sport requiring the most strength, but even Wilson realised that it was too difficult to control the ball in river currents so he moved it to indoor pools in the following years. As well as formulating the rules of water polo, Wilson was a pioneer of techniques for swim races, such as starts and turns at the end of a length, and for life-saving.
(Top image: David Sanborn at Flickr.com / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)