Swimming is one of the most popular leisure activities and competitive sports around the world and it first featured at the third International University Sports Weeks in 1951, in Luxembourg. However, it was not until the inauguration date of the modern Summer Universiade in 1959 in Turin that swimming became a compulsory event on the sports programme of FISU. During this first Summer Universiade 12 records were broken, setting the milestone for another 12 Universiade records just two years later in Sofia (BUL).
Due to the increasing success, university swimming continued to attract more and more student participants from around the world, boosting the level of competition to grow beyond its own great heights. In 1967 in Tokyo, the victory of the American swimming team remained without doubt, one of the most outstanding feats in Universiade history, taking a total of nine (9) world records. The success story of swimming continued throughout the eighties and nineties, best exemplified in the 1981 Summer Universiade in Bucharest (ROM), where 26 Universiade records were broken in 29 events. Just two years later in Edmonton (CAN), the Soviet swimmers, headed by the world record holder Vladimir Salvikov, literally crushed their adversaries, taking 22 titles. Edmonton was also the first international event for the future Olympic champion Alex Bauman. The level of the Universiade swimming competitions remained high and top ranking swimmers such as Matt Biondi, Michael Gross, Jon Sieben, Otylia Jedrzejczack, Yana Klochkova, Rachel Komisarz, Oleg Lisogor, Tom Malchow and Gustavo Borges participated in both the Olympics and the Universiades.
In 1997 the Summer Universiade was hosted in Sicily (ITA) where a new swimming complex was built specifically for the Universiade. Everyone was anticipating the performance of the Olympic medal winner, Penelope Heyns, but it was finally Slovakia's Martina Moravcova who took the show by winning four individual gold medals.