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The Trudgen Stroke – The Sporting Legacy of John Trudgen


The Trudgen Stroke Part 1

Some of the great moments of last years Olympics were in the Aquatic Centre but how many people realize that one of the founding fathers of modern competitive swimming was born in Poplar.


The Trudgen Stroke Part 2

John Arthur Trudgen was born in Poplar in 1852, at the age of 11 he went with his parents to Buenos Aires in Argentina. John’s father was sent to Argentina by his employer Blyth and Co Engineers who were based on the Isle of Dogs.

Whilst he was in Argentina he would swim with the local children who used  a overarm swimming action rather than the more usual breaststroke.

When John returned to England in 1868, he developed the stroke he saw in Argentina to use in competitive swimming.

It is important to remember at this time Britain was the home of competitive swimming with many swimming clubs being formed and national championships being created.

In 1873 John Trudgen swam in a championship in Lambeth Baths and caused a sensation , a sports journalist R Watson writing in a sports paper the Swimming Record describes what happened.

 A surprising swimmer carried off the handicap we allude to Trudgen ; this individual swam with both arms entirely out of the water, an action peculiar to Indians. His time was very fast, particularly for one who appears to know but little of swimming, and should he become more finished in style, we shall expect to see him take a position almost second to none as a swimmer.

I question, indeed, if the swimming world ever saw a more peculiar stroke sustained throughout a 160 yards race. I have seen many fast exponents retain the action for some distance, but the great exertion compels them to desist, very much fatigued. In Trudgen, however, a totally opposite state of things existed ; for here we had a man swimming apparently easy, turning very badly, and when finished, appearing as though he could have gone at least another 80 yards at the same pace. His action reminds an observer of a style peculiar to the Indians ,both arms are thrown partly sideways, but very slovenly, and the head kept completely above water.

What Trudgen had done was to develop a version of the front crawl which gave him incredible speed over sprint distances and he soon dominated sprint races in many championships. John’s version of the crawl became quickly known as the “Trudgen” and quickly dominated the early years of competitive racing.

In 1875 Trudgen swimming for the Alliance Swimming club used his new stroke to win an English championship race at Edgbaston reservoir in 1875.

Many swimmers copied Trudgen but developed the stroke to get greater speed. The Trudgen stroke was also used in the sport of Water Polo.

Although the Trudgen was a major advance for competitive swimming , his achievements were overshadowed by the exploits of Captain Webb in 1875.

Captain Webb’s swim across the English channel was national and international headline news and his exploits dominated the swimming world rather than the competitive swimming scene.

In the years up to the first Olympic games the Trudgen stroke was being developed and dominated competitive swimming over the sprints and middle distances.

Trudgen himself faded from the racing scene and found work as a fitter and machinist in the Isle of Dogs and Woolwich Arsenal. It was in Woolwich that John Trudgen died a relatively forgotten man in 1902.

If the man himself was forgotten, his name was being used extensively in the Swimming World where his stroke was being constantly refined and dominating the early Olympic games.

Even when the stroke becomes overtaken by front crawl style,  in freestyle  the name of Trudgen is still used up to the present day.

John Trudgen’s role in the development of modern competitive swimming was recognised when he was chosen to be inducted in the International Swimming Hall of Fame  in 1974.

The citation records why:

John Trudgen

FOR THE RECORD: Introduced the “trudgen” stroke he picked up from South American Indians to England in 1875; the stroke was considered a breakthrough in modern swimming.

A few days apart, in the same month and year (August, 1875), Capt. Matthew Webb swam the English Channel (21 miles in 21 hours and 45 minutes) going all the way breaststroke, and John Trudgen of the Alliance Swimming Club of London won the English 100 yards Championships at the Edghaston Reservoir in 1 minute and 16 seconds. Trudgen swam with his own version of a stroke he picked up from the South American Indians. Ninety years later Roy Saari of the University of Southern California won more NCAA Championships than any swimmer in U.S. College history using a stroke called the Trudgen. While Trudgen won his English Championship at 100 yds., his stroke was considered too strenuous for distance. Twenty-five years later, the advent of the crawl stroke also considered too strenuous for distance, relegated the Trudgen to a middle distance and distance stroke. With sprinters using some version of Alick Wickham’s “crawl” everybody from 200 yds. and up used the Trudgen at least until Norman Ross, a triple Trudgen winner at the 1920 Olympics. After 1920 most winners used the crawl, but almost anything else that passes for freestyle is still called “The Trudgen” ( a sidestroke leg thrash that accommodates a turn onto the side with a breathing pause in the arm stroke).

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