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Marathon swimming

At the first three editions of the modern Olympic Games, all swimming events took place in a natural body of water, since pools were not available until 1908. Competitions in open water only reappeared in 1991, in the form of marathon swimming, when the discipline was officially introduced at the FINA World Swimming Championships; at the time, events were held over 25km and took over five hours to complete. The first time the 10km race was contested was at the FINA World Swimming Championships in Fukuoka, Japan in 2001.

Brief overview of the rules

Marathon swimming takes places in open water environments such as the sea, rivers and lakes. Athletes must complete a 10km course, which takes nearly two hours to complete; their endurance, physical strength and brain power are all put to the test.

An ability to adapt is also crucial; tides and currents change quickly at sea and the athletes must take this into account in their strategy. Using the right tactics for the course and conditions is therefore key. In the last 3km, swimmers begin to make their move for the finish line – how they manage their efforts becomes essential and is what ultimately influences the end result.

Olympic history

Marathon swimming is the latest swimming discipline to be added to the Olympic programme, with the 10km race introduced at the Beijing Games in 2008. The short history of this sport means that few countries and athletes have had a chance to stand out in marathon swimming.

Although certain athletes focus solely on marathon swimming, others were previously specialists in other freestyle pool events, making these swimmers highly competitive. A prime example is Tunisian swimmer Oussama Mellouli, who won the gold medal in the men’s 1,500m freestyle event at Beijing in 2008 and then won the men’s marathon swimming event in London four years later.

Events in 2024

Marathon swimming events for Paris 2024 will take place on the 8th and the 9th of August.

  • 10 km swimming (women’s / men’s)

Venue in 2024

International organisation

International Federation

© Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

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