Guide to Olympic Swimming

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Welcome to our armchair guide to swimming at the Olympics. You’ll find insights from top GB swimmers and coaches, an Olympic swimming jargon buster, Olympic swimming facts at a glance, Olympic swimming timeline, and a ones-to-watch calendar so you can plan your Olympic viewing from your tablet.


Looking for an introduction to swimming for the Olympics? Then let our athlete and coach videos guide you.


  • Swimming was one of the sports held at the first Modern Olympic Games at Athens 1896 with men competing in four events - the 100m, 500m and 1,500m Freestyle and the 'sailor's 100m Freestyle', the latter was only open to members of the Greek Royal Navy.
  • The sport is now one of the most popular at the Games with 34 medal events and athletes from 21 countries reaching the podium in 2008.
  • Individual races are held in four strokes (freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke and butterfly) as well as a combination of the four called individual medley (IM).
  • Swimmers' speed has gradually quickened in line with improvements in kit and a greater focus on the mechanics of technique. USA's Johnny Weismuller was the first to swim 100m Freestyle under a minute in 1922 while another American, Jim Montgomery, became the first person to dip under 50 seconds in the same event in 1976 while the current world record belongs to Brazil's Cesar Cielo at 46.91.


Planning a little TV or internet time watching the Olympics? Then use our calendar to help you find the races you want and the GB swimmers to look out for. Simply click on their photo to access their profile and find out about their rivals and compare times.

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