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Freestyle is an unregulated swimming style used in swimming competitions according to the rules of FINA. The front crawl stroke is almost universally used during a freestyle race, as this style is generally the fastest. As such the term freestyle is often used as a synonym for the front crawl.


Competitors in freestyle swimming can use any of the unregulated strokes such as front crawl, dog paddle, or sidestroke. Standalone freestyle events can also be swum using one of the officially regulated strokes (breaststroke, butterfly, and backstroke). For the freestyle part of medley competitions, however, one cannot use breaststroke, butterfly, or backstroke. Most competitive swimmers choose the front crawl during freestyle competitions, as this style provides the greatest speed. Freestyle competitions have also been swum completely and partially in other styles, especially at lower ranking competitions as some swimmers find their backstroke quicker than their front crawl. During the Olympic Games, front crawl is swum almost exclusively during freestyle.

New developments in the sport

Times have consistently dropped over the years due to better training techniques and to new developments in the sport.

In the first four Olympics, competitions were not held in pools, but, rather, in open water (1896- the Mediterranean Seamarker, 1900- the Seinemarker river, 1904- an artificial lake, 1906- the Mediterranean Sea). The 1904 Olympics freestyle race was the only one ever measured at 100 yards, instead of the usual 100 metres. A 100 metre pool was built for the 1908 Olympicsmarker and sat in the center of the main stadium's track and field oval. The 1912 Olympics, held in the Stockholmmarker harbour, marked the beginning of electronic timing.

Male swimmers wore full body suits up until the 1940s, which caused more drag in the water than their modern swimwear counterparts. Also, over the years, some design considerations have reduced swimming resistance making the pool faster - namely proper pool depth, elimination of currents, increased lane width, energy-absorbing racing lane lines and gutters, and the use of other innovative hydraulic, acoustic and illumination designs.

The 1924 Olympics were the first to use the standard 50 metre pool with marked lanes. In the freestyle, swimmers originally dove from the pool walls, but diving blocks were eventually incorporated at the 1936 Olympics. The tumble turn ("flip-turn") was developed by the 1950s. The Trudgen, introduced in England in the 1880s, has been completely supplanted by the front crawl, also known as the Australian crawl.

Rules and regulation

Freestyle means any style for individual distances and any style but breaststroke, butterfly and backstroke for medley competitions. The wall has to be touched at every turn and upon completion. Some part of the swimmer has to be above water at any time except for the first 15 m after the start and every turn. This rule was introduced to avoid certain swimmers who would use the faster underwater swimming to their advantage, and swim entire laps underwater. (see: History of swimming). The exact FINA rules are:
  • Freestyle means that in an event so designated the swimmer may swim any style, except that in individual medley or medley relay events, freestyle means any style other than backstroke, breaststroke or butterfly.
  • Some part of the swimmer must touch the wall upon completion of each length and at the finish.
  • Some part of the swimmer must break the surface of the water throughout the race, except it shall be permissible for the swimmer to be completely submerged during the turn and for a distance of not more than 15 metres after the start and each turn. By that point the head must have broken the surface.


There are eight common competitions swum in freestyle swimming, both over either a long course (50 m pool) or a short course (25 m pool). The United States also employs short course yards (25 yard pool). Of course, other distances are also swum on occasion.
  • 50 m Freestyle
  • 100 m Freestyle
  • 200 m Freestyle
  • 400 m Freestyle (500 yards for short course yards)
  • 800 m Freestyle (1000 yards for short course yards)
  • 1500 m Freestyle (1650 yards for short course yards)
  • 4×100 m Freestyle Relay
  • 4×200 m Freestyle Relay

Young swimmers (typically 8 years old and younger) may swim a 25 yard or 25 metre freestyle event. These shorter events are usually for swimmers who are slower than similarly aged swimmers or may have difficulty swimming longer distances.

Freestyle is also part of the medley over the following distances:
  • 100 m Individual Medley (short 25 m pool only)
  • 200 m Individual Medley
  • 400 m Individual Medley
  • 4×100 m Medley Relay

In the long distance races of 800 m and 1500 m, meets hosted by FINA (including the Olympics) only have the 800 m distance for women and the 1500 m distance for men. However, FINA does keep records in the 1500 metre distance for women and the 800 metre distance for men, and many meets in the United States have both distances for both genders.

Olympic or long course world champions in freestyle




  1. The 2002 Pan Pacific Swimming Championships had an 800 metre distance for men, and 1500 metre distance for women, and appear to have been conducted on this basis since 1989. The 2006 USA Swimming Summer Nationals have both events, as do the 2006 USA Swimming Summer Junior Nationals and the 2005 USMS Long Course Nationals.


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