Swimming

Facts

Discipline of Aquatics
Participants 8665
NOCs 201
Competitions held 551 (Venues)
Distinct events 94
IF Fédération internationale de natation

Description

Swimming is an ancient practice as prehistoric man had to learn to swim in order to cross rivers and lakes. There are numerous references in Greek mythology to swimming, the most notable being that of Leander swimming the Hellespont (now the Dardenelle Straits) nightly to see his beloved Hero.

Swimming as a sport probably was not practiced widely until the early 19th century. The National Swimming Society of Great Britain was formed in 1837 and began to conduct competitions. Most early swimmers used the breaststroke or a form of it. In the 1870s, a British swimming instructor named J. Arthur Trudgeon traveled to South America where he saw natives there using an alternate arm overhand stroke. He brought it back to England as the famous trudgeon stroke – a crawl variant with a scissors kick. In the late 1880s, an Englishman named Frederick Cavill traveled to the South Seas where he saw the natives there performing a crawl with a flutter kick. Cavill settled in Australia where he taught the stroke which was to become the famous Australian crawl.

Swimming has been held at every Olympic Games. The early events were usually only conducted in freestyle (crawl) or breaststroke, as backstroke was added later. In the 1940s, breaststrokers discovered they could go much faster by bringing both arms overhead together. This was banned in the breaststroke shortly thereafter but became the butterfly stroke, which is now the fourth stroke used in competitive swimming. Women’s swimming was first held at the 1912 Olympics. It has since been conducted at all the Olympics.

The current program has events for men and women in freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke, butterfly, individual medley, and relays. Both men and women compete in freestyle over 50, 100, 200, and 400 metres. The long-distance event for women has been 800 metres and 1,500 metres for men, but at the 2020/21 Tokyo Olympics, a men’s 800 metres and a women’s 1,500 metres have been added to the program.

Backstroke, breaststroke, and butterfly events are contested over both 100 and 200 metres. Individual medley is held at 200 and 400 metres. Men and women now compete in the same three relays: 4×100 metre freestyle relay, 4×100 metre medley relay, and 4×200 metre freestyle relay. Since 2008, two swimming events are also held outside of the Olympic pool; both men and women compete in 10 km open water races – see Marathon Swimming. Mixed relays have been added to the Olympic Program for the 2020/21 Tokyo Olympics.

The United States has been by far the dominant nation in this sport at the Olympics. At various times, Australia, Japan, and previously the German Democratic Republic women (GDR – East Germany), have made inroads into that dominance. However, all of the top medal winners are American: Michael Phelps, Mark Spitz, Matt Biondi and Jenny Thompson. With 23 golds and 28 medals, Phelps has also won the most Olympic gold medals and medals in any sport.

The governing body is the Fédération internationale de natation (FINA), which was formed on 19 July 1908 in London at the end of the Olympics, with eight founding members: Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Great Britain, Hungary, and Sweden. FINA not only governs swimming, but also diving, high diving, open water swimming, artistic swimming (synchronized swimming), and water polo. As of 2020 FINA has 209 member associations.

All-time medal table

Olympic Games

NOC Gold Silver Bronze Total
United States USA 247 172 137 556
Australia AUS 58 64 64 186
East Germany GDR 38 32 22 92
Hungary HUN 27 25 20 72
Japan JPN 22 26 32 80
Netherlands NED 19 18 19 56
Great Britain GBR 18 26 29 73
Germany GER 14 23 34 71
People's Republic of China CHN 13 19 11 43
Soviet Union URS 12 21 26 59
Sweden SWE 9 15 14 38
Canada CAN 8 15 25 48
France FRA 8 15 19 42
South Africa RSA 6 6 6 18
Unified Team EUN 6 3 1 10
Italy ITA 5 4 11 20
Russian Federation RUS 4 9 9 22
Ukraine UKR 4 2 1 7
West Germany FRG 3 5 14 22
Denmark DEN 3 5 6 14
Romania ROU 3 2 4 9
Ireland IRL 3 0 1 4
Zimbabwe ZIM 2 4 1 7
Australasia ANZ 2 3 3 8
Spain ESP 2 2 4 8
New Zealand NZL 2 1 3 6
Austria AUT 1 6 4 11
Brazil BRA 1 4 8 13
Greece GRE 1 3 2 6
Poland POL 1 3 2 6
Republic of Korea KOR 1 3 0 4
Belgium BEL 1 2 2 5
Costa Rica CRC 1 1 2 4
Argentina ARG 1 1 1 3
Bulgaria BUL 1 1 1 3
Yugoslavia YUG 1 1 0 2
Mexico MEX 1 0 1 2
Suriname SUR 1 0 1 2
Tunisia TUN 1 0 1 2
Kazakhstan KAZ 1 0 0 1
Lithuania LTU 1 0 0 1
Singapore SGP 1 0 0 1
Belarus BLR 0 2 1 3
Slovakia SVK 0 2 0 2
Finland FIN 0 1 3 4
Cuba CUB 0 1 1 2
Norway NOR 0 1 1 2
Croatia CRO 0 1 0 1
Serbia SRB 0 1 0 1
Slovenia SLO 0 1 0 1
Philippines PHI 0 0 2 2
Switzerland SUI 0 0 1 1
Trinidad and Tobago TTO 0 0 1 1
Venezuela VEN 0 0 1 1

Intercalated Games

NOC Gold Silver Bronze Total
Great Britain GBR 1 2 2 5
Hungary HUN 1 1 0 2
Austria AUT 1 0 1 2
United States USA 1 0 0 1
Germany GER 0 1 0 1
Australia AUS 0 0 1 1

Youth Olympic Games

NOC Gold Silver Bronze Total
People's Republic of China CHN 24 11 5 40
Russian Federation RUS 21 13 7 41
Hungary HUN 15 3 4 22
Italy ITA 6 6 9 21
Australia AUS 5 10 17 32
Ukraine UKR 5 3 2 10
United States USA 4 2 2 8
Japan JPN 3 2 5 10
Lithuania LTU 3 2 1 6
France FRA 3 1 4 8
South Africa RSA 2 4 2 8
Canada CAN 2 2 6 10
Czech Republic CZE 2 0 2 4
Croatia CRO 2 0 0 2
Vietnam VIE 2 0 0 2
Brazil BRA 1 5 0 6
Great Britain GBR 1 3 3 7
Israel ISR 1 2 1 4
Republic of Korea KOR 1 2 1 4
Norway NOR 1 1 4 6
Netherlands NED 1 1 1 3
Sweden SWE 1 1 1 3
Trinidad and Tobago TTO 1 1 1 3
Egypt EGY 1 0 1 2
Republic of Moldova MDA 1 0 0 1
Germany GER 0 5 7 12
Spain ESP 0 3 3 6
Venezuela VEN 0 3 2 5
Romania ROU 0 2 1 3
Serbia SRB 0 2 1 3
Argentina ARG 0 2 0 2
Greece GRE 0 2 0 2
Hong Kong, China HKG 0 2 0 2
Poland POL 0 1 3 4
Belarus BLR 0 1 1 2
El Salvador ESA 0 1 0 1
Ireland IRL 0 1 0 1
Kyrgyzstan KGZ 0 1 0 1
Singapore SGP 0 1 0 1
Switzerland SUI 0 1 0 1
Thailand THA 0 1 0 1
Slovenia SLO 0 0 4 4
Austria AUT 0 0 2 2
New Zealand NZL 0 0 2 2
Kuwait KUW 0 0 1 1
Portugal POR 0 0 1 1
The Bahamas BAH 0 0 1 1

Most successful competitors

Olympic Games

Athlete Nat Gold Silver Bronze Total
Michael Phelps USA 23 3 2 28
Mark Spitz USA 9 1 1 11
Jenny Thompson USA 8 3 1 12
Matt Biondi USA 8 2 1 11
Ryan Lochte USA 6 3 3 12
Kristin Otto GDR 6 0 0 6
Amy Van Dyken USA 6 0 0 6
Gary Hall, Jr. USA 5 3 2 10
Ian Thorpe AUS 5 3 1 9
Aaron Peirsol USA 5 2 0 7

Intercalated Games

Athlete Nat Gold Silver Bronze Total
Henry Taylor GBR 1 1 1 3
Zoltán Halmay HUN 1 1 0 2
Otto Scheff AUT 1 0 1 2
Henrik Hajós HUN 1 0 0 1
Géza Kiss HUN 1 0 0 1
József Ónody HUN 1 0 0 1
Charlie Daniels USA 1 0 0 1
John Jarvis GBR 0 1 2 3
Emil Rausch GER 0 1 0 1
Oskar Schiele GER 0 1 0 1
Ernst Bahnmeyer GER 0 1 0 1
Max Pape GER 0 1 0 1

Youth Olympic Games

Athlete Nat Gold Silver Bronze Total
Kliment Kolesnikov RUS 6 1 0 7
Andrey Minakov RUS 6 1 0 7
Tang Yi CHN 6 0 0 6
Shen Duo CHN 6 0 0 6
Liu Lan CHN 5 0 1 6
Zhang Yufei CHN 4 2 0 6
Qiu Yuhan CHN 4 1 1 6
Bai Anqi CHN 4 1 0 5
Yu Hexin CHN 4 1 0 5
Daniil Markov RUS 3 3 0 6

Event types

Name Gender Still contested? Times held?
50 metres Freestyle Men 8
100 metres Freestyle Men 27
200 metres Freestyle Men 14
400 metres Freestyle Men 26
1,500 metres Freestyle Men 25
4 × 100 metres Freestyle Relay Men 12
4 × 200 metres Freestyle Relay Men 25
100 metres Backstroke Men 24
200 metres Backstroke Men 15
100 metres Breaststroke Men 13
200 metres Breaststroke Men 25
100 metres Butterfly Men 13
200 metres Butterfly Men 16
200 metres Individual Medley Men 11
400 metres Individual Medley Men 14
4 × 100 metres Medley Relay Men 15
50 metres Freestyle Women 8
100 metres Freestyle Women 24
200 metres Freestyle Women 13
400 metres Freestyle Women 22
800 metres Freestyle Women 13
4 × 100 metres Freestyle Relay Women 24
4 × 200 metres Freestyle Relay Women 6
100 metres Backstroke Women 22
200 metres Backstroke Women 13
100 metres Breaststroke Women 13
200 metres Breaststroke Women 22
100 metres Butterfly Women 16
200 metres Butterfly Women 13
200 metres Individual Medley Women 11
400 metres Individual Medley Women 14
4 × 100 metres Medley Relay Women 15
50 metres Freestyle Boys 3
100 metres Freestyle Boys 3
200 metres Freestyle Boys 3
400 metres Freestyle Boys 3
800 metres Freestyle Boys 2
4 x 100 metres Freestyle Relay Boys 3
50 metres Backstroke Boys 3
100 metres Backstroke Boys 3
200 metres Backstroke Boys 3
50 metres Breaststroke Boys 3
100 metres Breaststroke Boys 3
200 metres Breaststroke Boys 3
50 metres Butterfly Boys 3
100 metres Butterfly Boys 3
200 metres Butterfly Boys 3
200 metres Individual Medley Boys 3
4 x 100 metres Medley Relay Boys 3
50 metres Freestyle Girls 3
100 metres Freestyle Girls 3
200 metres Freestyle Girls 3
400 metres Freestyle Girls 3
4 x 100 metres Freestyle Relay Girls 3
800 metres Freestyle Girls 2
50 metres Backstroke Girls 3
100 metres Backstroke Girls 3
200 metres Backstroke Girls 3
50 metres Breaststroke Girls 3
100 metres Breaststroke Girls 3
200 metres Breaststroke Girls 3
50 metres Butterfly Girls 3
100 metres Butterfly Girls 3
200 metres Butterfly Girls 3
200 metres Individual Medley Girls 3
4 x 100 metres Medley Relay Girls 3
4 x 100 metres Freestyle Relay Mixed Youth 3
4 x 100 metres Medley Relay Mixed Youth 3
50 yards Freestyle Men 1
100 yards Freestyle Men 1
220 yards Freestyle Men 1
440 yards Freestyle Men 1
500 metres Freestyle Men 1
880 yards Freestyle Men 1
1,000 metres Freestyle Men 1
1,200 metres Freestyle Men 1
1 mile Freestyle Men 2
4,000 metres Freestyle Men 1
4 × 50 yards Freestyle Relay Men 1
4 × 250 metres Freestyle Relay Men 1
100 yards Backstroke Men 1
440 yards Breaststroke Men 1
400 metres Breaststroke Men 2
100 metres Freestyle For Sailors Men 1
Underwater Swimming Men 1
Plunge For Distance Men 1
200 metres Obstacle Course Men 1
200 metres Team Swimming Men 1
100 yards, Handicap Men 1
220 yards, Handicap Men 1
440 yards, Handicap Men 1
880 yards, Handicap Men 1
1 mile, Handicap Men 1
300 metres Freestyle Women 1