Backstroke – In the backstroke, the swimmer must stay on his or her back at all times. The stroke is an alternating motion of the arms. At each turn a swimmer must touch the wall with some part of the body. Swimmers must surface within 15 m after the start and each turn. Backstroke race distances are 50, 100 and 200 m.
Breaststroke – Perhaps one of the most difficult strokes to master, the breaststroke requires simultaneous movement of the arms on the same horizontal plane. The hands are pushed forward from the breast on or under the surface of the water and brought backward in the propulsive stage of the stroke simultaneously. The kick is a simultaneous thrust of the legs called a frog or breaststroke kick. No flutter or dolphin kicking is allowed. At each turn a swimmer must touch with both hands at the same time. Breaststroke races are distances of 50, 100 and 200 m.
Freestyle – In the freestyle, the competitor may swim any stroke he or she wishes. The usual stroke used is the front crawl. This stroke is characterized by the alternate overhand motion of the arms. The freestyle is swum over 50, 100, 200, 400, 800 and 1500 m distances.
Strategies – The sprint races (50 and 100 m) are an all-out burst of speed from start to finish. The slightest mistake can cost precious hundredths of seconds - and the race. The 200 m events require the swimmer to have a sense of pace as well as the ability to swim in a controlled speed.
The 400, 800 and 1500 m freestyle require the swimmer to constantly be aware of where they are in the water and how tired they are becoming. Swimming the first portion of the race at too fast of a pace can sap a swimmers strength and cause a poor finish. Swimming the first portion of the race too slowly can separate the swimmer from the pack and make catching up impossible.
There are two ways to swim a distance race. Swimmers may elect to swim the race evenly (holding the same pace throughout the race) or they may negative split the race. A negative split occurs when the swimmer covers the second half of a race faster than the first half.
The Racing Course: The length of a long course racing pool is 50 m. The pool has eight lanes and each lane is 2.5 m wide. The water temperature must be kept at 26 degrees Celsius.
The International Meet – There are normally 13 individual events and three relays for men and women in at the Olympics. FINA, the international governing body for swimming has recently added the 50 m events for backstroke, butterfly and breaststroke as well as the 800 m freestyle event for men and the 1500 m freestyle event for women. These events are only contested at the World Championships and have not been added to the Olympic schedule of events. Likewise the Open Water events of 5 km., 10 km. and 25 km. are contested at FINA events but not at the Olympics.