Updated: Mon, 19 Mar 2012 21:13:56 GMT | By pa.press.net

SWIMMING

London has played a significant role in the development of swimming as an Olympic sport and the venue for the 2012 Games is again a fitting backdrop.


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USA's Michael Phelps on his way to eight gold medals at Beijing 2008. (© Press Association)

USA's Michael Phelps on his way to eight gold medals at Beijing 2008.

Swimming

London has played a significant role in the development of swimming as an Olympic sport and the venue for the 2012 Games is again a fitting backdrop.

Swimming was part of the inaugural modern Olympics at Athens 1896 where the sport took place in humble surroundings, with a river, the ocean and a lake used in the early Games.

London 1908 marked the first occasion when a pool was used, and 40 years later the city saw another first when the Games returned to the English capital, as the Empire Pool became the first covered pool to be used at the Olympics.

Fast-forward to 2012 and London is again setting new trends, with the swimming being staged in a futuristic-looking Aquatics Centre featuring a distinctive wave-like roof design.

Swimming events at the Games are predominantly based in a 50-metre pool, with eight lanes, although Beijing 2008 also saw open-water marathon races held for the first time.

The sport incorporates four strokes - freestyle, butterfly, backstroke and breaststroke - and there are a total of 18 different medal events on the Olympic schedule, ranging in distance from 50 metres up to 1500m in the pool and 10km in open water.

As well the individual races, three team relays (4x100m freestyle, 4x100m medley and 4x200m freestyle) form part of the programme for both men and women. And unlike in athletics, where the relay races are held at the end of the programme, in swimming they are staged throughout the meet from the first morning of competition onwards.

Events of less than 400m in the pool include heats, semi-finals and finals, with eight swimmers or teams progressing to battle it out for the medals, while the 10km race is a mass-start event.

As one of the most physically-demanding sports at the Olympics, swimmers need a range of different skills depending on the stroke they are performing. However, the core principle of each event is for an athlete to use their body position to make them as streamlined as possible, cutting down on drag and making them move through the water quickly.

While speed and power are both important, the need to have a good rhythm and powers of recovery are also essential.

The fact that most swimmers compete in more than one stroke and at more than one race distance, as well as racing in the relays, means that some of the top names - such as Michael Phelps of the USA, who won eight golds at Beijing 2008, and Australian Stephanie Rice - can find themselves featuring in anywhere between two and 15 races in the space of just eight days.

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