Swimming Events at the 2012 London Summer Olympics

Swimming events in the 2012 London Summer Olympics promise to be just as exciting as ever. Olympic swimming has always been popular, thanks to amazing athletes like Michael Phelps who broke a lot of world records in the 2008 Olympic Games.

Men have competed in swimming competitions at the Olympics since the first modern Games in 1896. Women have been competing at the Olympic level since the 1912 Stockholm Games. The earliest competitions actually were held in open water! All the swimming events in London’s 2012 competitions, except the marathon races, will be at the Aquatics Centre. The marathon races will be held in Hyde Park.

Although the pool at the Aquatics Centre is divided into 10 lanes, only the 8 lanes in the middle will be used during the competitions.

Both men and women will compete in 17 medal events. Each country may enter up to two athletes in the individual events and only one team in the relays.

The following table lists the individual events/races. Check with the official London Olympic Games for dates and times.

Men’s Events Women’s Events
50 meter freestyle 50 meter freestyle
100 meter freestyle 100 meter freestyle
200 meter freestyle 200 meter freestyle
400 meter freestyle 400 meter freestyle
1500 meter freestyle 800 meter freestyle
100 meter backstroke 100 meter backstroke
200 meter backstroke 200 meter backstroke
100 meter breaststroke 100 meter breaststroke
200 meter breaststroke 200 meter breaststroke
100 meter butterfly 100 meter butterfly
200 meter butterfly 200 meter butterfly
200 meter medley 200 meter medley
400 meter medley 400 meter medley
4 x 100 meter freestyle relay 4 x 100 meter freestyle relay
4 x 200 meter freestyle relay 4 x 200 meter freestyle relay
4 x 100 meter medley relay 4 x 100 meter medley relay
10 kilometer marathon 10 kilometer marathon

As you can tell from the list of events, Olympic swimmers use four strokes:

  • Freestyle. Generally a front crawl stroke, although swimmers can use others strokes (including the dog paddle!). The front crawl is considered the fastest stroke.

  • Backstroke. As the name implies, this stroke is performed on the back. The advantage is easier breathing; the disadvantage is not being able to see where you’re going. The backstroke is also the only stroke started from within the water.

  • Breaststroke. Swimmers are on their chest and keep their torsos straight. The breaststroke enables swimmers to keep their heads above water most of the time. The leg kicks that accompany the breaststroke resemble a frog’s legs.

  • Butterfly. Similar to the breaststroke, but swimmers move both arms at the same time, use leg movements that resemble a dolphin’s tale, and can achieve greater speed. This stroke requires a great deal of strength and almost perfect technique to achieve higher speeds.

Swimmers use all four strokes in individual medleys, and one member of the team uses one stroke in each leg in medley relay events.

Things to watch for when viewing the Games:

  • Negative splits. When competitors complete the second half of a race faster than the first half. A negative split often makes the difference between a win or loss, particularly in longer races.

  • Open turns. Turns in which swimmers touch the side of the pool with their hands.

  • Fast starts. No matter the type of race or the distance, a good start is important. Swimmers might be able to come from the middle of the pack in longer races, but it is unlikely that a swimmer can recover from a bad start.

  • False starts. Resulting in disqualification, false starts include diving off too soon, especially in relays. Teammates must touch the end of the pool before a swimmer can leave the starting block.

The individual races start with heats and progress through semi-finals and finals. In relays, there isn’t a semi-final; swimmers move from the initial heats to the finals. So, how does a swimmer win the race? Easy. There is an electronic touchpad at the end of the pool. The first swimmer to touch, wins.

For more information regarding swimming rules and regulations, check in with the sport’s governing body, the International Swimming Federation (FINA).