History of Swimming at the Games

Swimming has featured in every edition of the Games since 1896. Early Olympic events were conducted in freestyle (crawl) or breaststroke. Backstroke was added as of 1904.

At the first three modern Olympic Games, Swimming took place in open water - in seas, rivers and lakes. A pool was used for the first time at the London 1908 Games, where the rules were finally standardised.

In the 1940s, breaststrokers discovered they could go much faster by bringing both arms overhead together. This was soon banned in the breaststroke, but became the butterfly stroke, which is now the fourth stroke used in competitive swimming.

The newest Aquatics event in the Games is the 10km Marathon Swimming competition which took place for the first time in Beijing in 2008.

How to play

Traditional Swimming races take place over distances ranging from 50m to 1500m. Unless it is a Freestyle event, competitors have to use a particular swimming stroke: Breaststroke, Butterfly or Backstroke. There are also Medley events which combine all four strokes.

Olympic races take place in a 50m long pool divided into 10 lanes, with only the middle eight lanes used by swimmers. The swimmer who touches the pool wall first at the end of the race is the winner. The Olympic programme includes both individual and team men’s and women’s events.

The Marathon Swimming races are swum outside in areas of open water such as the sea, a lake or a river, and competitors usually swim circuits around buoys positioned in the water.