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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 and breaststroke were the only swimming events at the Games in Athens in 1896, with backstroke added in 1904 then butterfly in 1956 at the Melbourne Games.

Women’s swimming joined the Olympic programme in 1912, participating in just two events. Women now compete in as many events as men and the two programmes will be identical at the Tokyo Games in 2021. Olympic swimming is largely dominated by the US with over 200 gold medals while Australia comes in second with 56.

Events in 2024

  • 50 m 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

La Défense Arena

International organisation

International federation : Fédération Internationale de Natation (FINA)

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