The events are categorized by the type of stroke the swimmer uses. Men and women
compete separately, with the distances ranging from 50 meters to 1,500 meters
for men, and from 50 meters to 800 meters for women. The events included in
the Olympic Games include:
Freestyle is where the competitor may swim
any stroke he or she prefers, usually the Australian
crawl, where the arms alternately come out
of the water and the legs flutter kick.
Backstroke is essentially the crawl stroke
but with the swimmer’s back turned to
the water. Swimmers must stay on their backs
at all times.
Breaststroke is where all leg and arm movements
must be made simultaneously. The hands must
be pushed forward together and from the breast,
and must be brought back on or under the surface
of the water. Only the backward and out frog-leg
kick is allowed.
Butterfly was originally a variation of the
breaststroke. The breaststroke had always been
a controversial stroke because of ongoing arguments
as to what constituted a legal or illegal technique.
In the early 1940s some U.S. swimmers
discovered a “loophole” in the
rules then in force and began to bring their
arms back above the surface of the water, saving
time and energy. In 1956, this new technique
was officially recognized as the fourth Olympic
swimming style and given its own set of competitions,
separate from the breaststroke.
Individual Medley comprises all four of the
above competitive strokes in one race; the
order of the strokes is butterfly, backstroke,
breaststroke, and freestyle.
Medley Relay is an event swum by a team of
four, with each member swimming one leg (one
portion or quarter) of the relay. The
race is swum in the order of backstroke first,
then breaststroke, butterfly, and freestyle.
Freestyle Relay is where each swimmer chooses
the stroke he or she will use, with each leg
of the race swum by a different team member.
As in the medley relay, no individual may swim
more than one leg of the event.
The race is ready to begin when the swimmers are called to the starting position
by the starter, who visually makes certain that all swimmers are down and
still. Once the starter is satisfied, the race is started by an electronic
tone. The race will be recalled if the starter feels that one of the swimmers
has “jumped the gun,” and the swimmers will get ready to start
the race again. A competitor will be disqualified for causing a second premature
Starts and turns are key points of any race;
many a race has been lost by a swimmer who
starts or turns poorly. Quick turns are essential
to a good race. Swimmers must touch the wall
in turning in all events; however, in the freestyle
and the backstroke, the swimmer may somersault
at the wall, touching it only with the feet.
In the other two competitive strokes, both
hands must touch the wall before the turn can
There are basically two ways to swim a distance
race of 200 meters or more. Some swim it evenly,
holding the same pace throughout the entire
race. Others employ the “negative split” by
swimming the second half of a race faster than
Many male swimmers will shave their arms,
legs, chest, and back—and some, even
their head—right before the meet to lessen
water resistance and increase their speed.
and Fast Facts
- Take a look at the official Web site of U.S.A.
Swimming. Kids! Visit the organization's Kids
- The International
Olympic Committee site is the official
site of the Olympics and a super source
for swimming facts and figures.
- The USOC has
compiled a comprehensive site that explores
swimming history, rules, and news.
- For complete information about playing,
coaching, and watching swimming, visit EdGate's School
Athletics Center: Swimming page.
- FINA is
the International Amateur Federation for
the sport of swimming.
safely this summer!
General Sports Links
Olympians will compete in dozens of sports this summer. Even though Gateway
to the Summer Games can't feature them all, you can learn about each and
every one by visiting the sites listed below.