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Swimming dates back to prehistoric times, but it was not until the 19th century that it became a competitive sport. The National Swimming Society of Great Britain was born in the early 1800s and began holding the first competitions. Most swimmers used the breaststroke, or a form of it. A wider variety of strokes were later added to the competitions and now feature at the Olympic Games.

Brief overview of the rules

At the Olympic Games, swimming events are held in a 50m long pool. The four strokes of Olympic swimming events – for both individual and relay races – are breaststroke, butterfly, backstroke and freestyle, where crawl is always used. A fifth race, the mixed medley, involves all four strokes, with swimmers switching between them. The distances also vary, with different skills needed for a 50m race to a 1500m. Explosivity, endurance, strength and technique are all essential qualities for swimmers.

Olympic history

Swimming is a long-standing discipline at the Olympic Games of the modern era. Although the first Olympic races took place in a natural environment, since the 1908 Games in London the events have taken place in a pool, leading to the creation of the Fédération Internationale de Natation (FINA). Freestyle events were the only ones contested at the Games in Athens in 1896, with breaststroke and backstroke competitions then added at the 1904 Olympics in St. Louis and backstroke following 52 years later at the Melbourne Games in 1956. Women’s swimming joined the Olympic programme in 1912 with two events, but today the events of the women’s and men’s swimming competitions at the Games are identical. Olympic swimming has largely been dominated by athletes representing the United States, who have won over 250 gold medals.

Events in 2024

Paris 2024’s swimming events will take place between the 27th of July and the 4th of August.

  • 50m Freestyle (women’s / men’s)
  • 100m Freestyle (women’s / men’s)
  • 200m Freestyle (women’s / men’s)
  • 400m Freestyle (women’s / men’s)
  • 800m Freestyle (women’s / men’s)
  • 1500m Freestyle (women’s / men’s)
  • 100m backstroke (women’s / men’s)
  • 200m backstroke (women’s / men’s)
  • 100m breaststroke (women’s / men’s)
  • 200m breaststroke (women’s / men’s)
  • 100m butterfly (women’s / men’s)
  • 200m butterfly (women’s / men’s)
  • 200m individual Medley (women’s / men’s)
  • 400m individual Medley (women’s / men’s)
  • 4x100m Freestyle Relay (women’s / men’s)
  • 4x200m Freestyle Relay (women’s / men’s)
  • 4x100m medley relay (women’s / men’s / mixed)

Venue in 2024

International organisation

International federation : World Aquatics

© Clive Rose/Getty Images

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