Updated August 20 with inclusion of Jesse Vassallo
PHOENIX, Arizona, August 14. SWIMMING World has been using the term for years, but Merriam-Webster has finally added the word “underwater” as an officially-defined word in the dictionary with its update for 2012.
Merriam-Webster offers the following dictionary definition for the word:
1: lying, growing, worn, performed, or operating below the surface of the water
2: being below the waterline of a ship
3: having, relating to, or being a mortgage loan for which more is owed than the property securing the loan is worth
Swimming World has been using the word for decades, especially when explaining the underwater excellence of dolphin kick pioneers like Jesse Vassallo, Misty Hyman, Denis Pankratov and David Berkoff.
Swimming World's first usage of the word actually dates back to the May 1960 issue where an advertisement offered “Nemrod Underwater Equipment by Seamless” with suits selling for upwards of $16.95 for a size 32-38 women's classic one-piece suit. The first editorial usage of the term by Swimming World came in the March 1961 issue, where we wrote about pacing devices that included “blinking underwater lights.”
As for the four aforementioned (yep, that's in the dictionary) swimmers, Berkoff became known for the underwater dolphin kick, going as far as 35 meters off the start and about 10 after the turn in the 100 backstroke. His start was called the “Berkoff Blastoff.” Many followed suit shortly, making it a popular part of backstroke swimming before the underwater limit was reduced to 10 meters, then extended to 15 meters.
Berkoff, however, made the underwater dolphin kick widely popular in the 80s, but Puerto Rican Vassallo is known to have used the stroke in competition as early as 1976 against John Naber at nationals that year. For a great explanation of Vassallo's input into revolutionizing the sport with underwaters, check out The Charlotte Observer.
Pankratov and Hyman revolutionized underwater dolphin kicking in the 1990s, with Pankratov winning Olympic gold for his extended underwater kicking in the butterfly events. Hyman was also known for using the dolphin kick, making her a high school legend that set national high school records using the kick. She would win Olympic gold in the 200 fly in 2000 using her flawless technique, though she was limited to just 15 meters.