What’s the deal?

Competitors race through the water to see who’s fastest. Swimmers do one of four strokes–though if they’re doing an IM (Individual Medley), they’ll do all four. The strokes are:

  • Backstroke (Back) – The only stroke done on your back (though you can flip over to do a turn)
  • Breastroke (Breast) – The “slowest” of the four strokes–both arms and legs are primarily under water the entire race
  • Butterfly (Fly) – Arguably the most difficult of the four sports, as you have to propel both arms out of the water at the same time while you’re doing a dolphin kick
  • Freestyle (Free) – You might call this one the “crawl,” as you alternate spinning arms out of the water while you kick with your legs

There are also relay events that involve four-person teams. The Medley relay has one swimmer per stroke. In the freestyle relay, everyone swims free.

This is what happens in the pool, but there’s also open water swimming, with the swimming marathon.

Who’s competing?

Men and women both compete in:

  • Backstroke: 100m and 200m
  • Breaststroke: 100m and 200m
  • Butterfly: 100m and 200m
  • Freestyle: 50m, 100m, 200m, 400m
  • Individual Medley: 200m and 400m
  • Freestyle Relay: 4x 100m and 4x 200m
  • Marathon: 10km

Additionally, men compete in the 1500m freestyle, and women compete in the 800m freestyle.

Why should I watch?

Human fishes in action. This is one of the Olympics’ most popular sports, and it’s fun to see people conquer an element (seriously, if you can’t swim, you die) that can be absolutely terrifying to some.

Let’s face it though–if you’ve tried swimming, you know that it’s hella difficult , and when you see these athletes cut through the water, you’ll be pretty inspired.

And because there are a lot of events, you’ll probably be able to catch it on TV most days.

Potential drinking game:

For every world record broken, drink.

The perfect snack:



FINA (Féderation Internationale de Natation) is the global governing body for the sport; however, check your national organizing committee (or local pool for swim lessons and clubs). Adults in the US can get involved with Masters Swimming–learn to swim and/or swim on a team.

Of course, competitive swimming needs judges and referees. Learn more about it from FINA or your local NOC — in the US, that’s US Swimming.

Feed your Feverr in Swimming and Marathon Swimming!