Explained: What are the different strokes in Olympic swimming?

Great Britain's Adam Peaty performing breaststroke at the British Swimming Selection Trials 2021
Great Britain's Adam Peaty performing breaststroke at the British Swimming Selection Trials 2021

Swimming has been part of the Olympics since the inaugural edition of the Summer Games in 1896. Over the years, the sport has become quite popular with the best swimmers across the world vying for an Olympic medal.

In Olympic swimming, there are individual events and relay events. In individual events, participants will perform swimming strokes in which they are specialized. The freestyle stroke was first introduced in the Olympics. Later, three other strokes such as backstroke, breaststroke and butterfly were included in the Summer Games.

On that note, let's have a look at four different strokes in Olympic swimming.

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Different types of strokes in Olympic swimming

#1 Freestyle:

Freestyle is one of the oldest forms of swimming strokes. The freestyle stroke is called 'front crawl' and is chosen by the competitive swimmers as it renders the greatest speed. It is the fastest swimming stroke.

Freestyle swimming is the most aggressive and detail-oriented swimming stroke as the swimmers are not allowed to make a mistake. Most swimmers do face challenges like getting exhausted due to faster lactic acid buildup after the race. The freestyle stroke was introduced at the 1896 Athens Olympics in the men's 100m, 500m, 1200m, and Sailors' 100m freestyle.

At the 1912 Stockholm Olympics, women's freestyle swimming events, the 100m and 4x100m relay, were included for the first time in the Summer Games. Today, there are six Individual Olympic events in freestyle for both men and women - 50m, 100m, 200m, 400m, 800m, and 1500m.


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#2 Backstroke

Backstroke is the only swimming stroke that is swum on the back. The advantage of backstroke swimming is that the swimmers can easily breathe. It has constant access to the air. While doing backstroke, swimmers focus on the ceiling.

The disadvantage of the backstroke swimming is that the swimmers are not able to see which direction they are going. Backstroke swimming was first popularized by Harry Hebner. The backstroke swimming event was first introduced at the 1900 Paris Olympics in the men's 200-meter. The women's backstroke swimming event was later included in the 1956 Melbourne Olympics.

The only similarity between backstroke and freestyle swimming is that they are long-axis strokes. There are only two Olympic events for backstroke - men's and women's 100m and 200m.


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#3 Breaststroke

Breaststroke is one of the most popular swimming strokes. In this swimming stroke, swimmers are on their chests and their trunks don't rotate. While doing breaststroke swimming, swimmers have more chances of breathing as their head will be out of water for a portion of time.

Breaststroke is a tough swimming stroke because it's slower than freestyle and backstroke. The breaststroke is similar to butterfly stroke in terms of gliding the body. In competitive swimming, to swim breaststroke at speed it requires patience and strength as compared to the other three strokes.

The breaststroke swimming event was first included in the Summer Games at the 1904 Olympics in St. Louis, USA. The men's only breaststroke event was held over a distance of 440 yards. The women's breaststroke swimming event was introduced at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics.

There are only two Olympic events for breaststroke - men's and women's 100m and 200m.


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#4 Butterfly

Butterfly stroke is regarded as the most difficult swimming stroke compared to other strokes. In this swimming stroke, swimmers need to have good stamina, technique and strong shoulders, arms and abdominal muscles.

Butterfly swimming stroke was included in the sport in 1933 and originated out of the breaststroke, which is another difficult stroke any swimmer would experience. Though the butterfly stroke is difficult, it is also faster than the freestyle as it moves quickly as compared to backstroke and breaststroke.

The butterfly swimming event was included in the Olympics at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. The event was held for both men and women in the 100m and 200m butterfly events. Even today, there are only two Olympic events for the butterfly stroke.


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Edited by Sudeshna Banerjee
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