In the first edition of the modern Olympic Games in Athens in 1896, the swimming competition was held in open water. The success of the triathlon led to an increase in participation in open water swimming. The triathlon made its Olympic debut at the Sydney Games in 2000 and involves an open water swim of 1500 meters (1.5 kilometers). Open water races of 5, 10 and 25 kilometers are held in the annual General Fina World Championships.
Events around the world which attract open water swimmers include the Rottnest Channel Swim, the Escape from Alcatraz triathlon, and 5-Time Gold Medalist Aaron Peirsol will launch an event for his charity 'Race for the Oceans' November 8-9, 2008 in Ft. Myers, FL. On October 27, 2005 the International Olympic Committee added the 10 km open water swim as a 2008 Olympic event.
No equipment is needed for open water swimming. Many choose to swim with a swim suit. A brightly colored swim cap is recommended to enhance visibility and may be required for some organized swimming events and races.
The use of wetsuits is controversial in open water swimming, with many participants believing that wetsuits give some swimmers a competitive advantage. Some open water swimmers, in fact, believe that wearing a wetsuit is contrary to the spirit of the sport. Unlike triathlons, which allow swimmers to wear wetsuits when the water is below a certain temperature, most open water swim races either do not allow the use of wetsuits (usually defined as anything covering the body above the hips or below the knees), or put wetsuit-clad swimmers in a separate category and/or make them ineligible for race awards.