First Olympic Appearance: 1896 (men); 1912 (women)
by John Gettings and Mark Zurlo
In the first modern games any stroke was allowed, but today four swimming strokes are used at the Olympics. The backstroke first appeared in 1900, breaststroke in 1908, butterfly in 1956, and the freestyle, which can be any technique, has been almost exclusively a technique called the Australian crawl since the 1960s.
Men and women will compete separately in 17 events. The only difference is the men swim a 1500m freestyle race and the women swim a 800m freestyle race.
The backstroke, breaststroke and butterfly races are held over 100m and 200m. Freestyle races are held over 50m, 100m, 200m, and 400m, as well as the 800m for women and the 1500m for men.
Here is what happens in the medley races:
Individual (200m, 400m): Each competitor uses a different stroke on each lap of the race in this order: butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke, and freestyle.
Relay (4x100, 4x200): A different swimmer swims each leg of the race using a particular stroke in this order: backstroke, breaststroke, butterfly, and freestyle.
Along with the addition of a men's and women's 10 km marathon event, the swimming competition at the Beijing Games will feature another drastic change from years past, the finals of all events will be held during the morning hours. Finals have been traditionally held in the evening not only at the Olympics, but also at most other professional competitions. The controversial time shift comes at the request of U.S. television network NBC, which pays $3.55 billion for the rights to broadcast the games and would like to broadcast one of the games marquee events during prime time in the United States. All competition will be held at the National Aquadicts Center, or "water cube," which will mark a return to indoor competition after swimming events were held outdoors at the Athens Games.