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Tokyo Olympics: A look at all the swimming events

We'll talk about the various swimming events that will be on show at the Tokyo Olympics

Indian elite swimmers Kushagra Rawat, Srihari Nataraj and Sajan Prakash [Source: Indian Express]

Indian elite swimmers Kushagra Rawat, Srihari Nataraj and Sajan Prakash [Source: Indian Express]


Anjishnu Roy

Updated: 2021-06-04T19:27:08+05:30

The Olympics are the pinnacle for any competitive swimmer. A total of 32 swimming events were held in Rio in 2016.

At the Tokyo Olympics, 35 events will be held, including the addition of three new competitions: 800m freestyle for men, 1500m freestyle for women and 4x100m mixed medley relay.

Let's take a deeper look at all the different swimming events which will be organised at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics:

Freestyle Swimming

In the freestyle category in swimming competitions, contestants are subjected to only a few restrictions on their range of stroke. As such, it is the most common category in virtually every swimming competition.

The front crawl technique, also popularly known as freestyle is the fastest stroke and is the most widely used stroke in Olympic competitions.

The Tokyo Olympics will feature six different freestyle swimming events varying in distance for both male and female athletes. These are:

  • 50m Freestyle
  • 100m Freestyle
  • 200m Freestyle
  • 400m Freestyle
  • 800m Freestyle
  • 1500m Freestyle


Of the four formally recognised competitive swimming styles, backstroke is the only one where swimming on the back is allowed. [Source: Swimswam]

Back crawl, also known as Backstroke is the only one of the four formally recognised competitive swimming styles where swimming on the back is allowed. Though the backstroke style allows for easier breathing it has the obvious disadvantage of the swimmers not being able to see where they are heading. The start of the backstroke style is also different from the three other competitive swimming styles.

In the Olympics, the backstroke initially began with a distance of 100 yards in 1904 before it was changed to 100m in 1908. The 200m backstroke category featured in the 1900 Olympics before returning to the Olympics in 1964.

Women's 100m backstroke began in 1926 and the 200m category was added at the 1968 Olympics.

The Tokyo Olympics will also feature:

  • 100m Backstroke
  • 200m Backstroke


The breaststroke tests the endurance and strength of the swimmers [Source: WG Aquatics]

The breaststroke is a swimming style where the swimmer is on their chest and their torso does not rotate. The stroke is considered to be the slowest of all competitive strokes and tests the swimmers' endurance and strength. It is also thought to be the oldest swimming stroke.

It was formally accepted as an Olympic event for the first time in 1908 for men and in 1924 for women in the 200m category while the 100m category began in 1968 for both male and female swimmers.

The Tokyo Olympics will feature two different categories of breaststroke for both men and women:

  • 100m Breaststroke
  • 200m Breaststroke


The Butterfly style is regarded as the most difficult swimming stroke [Source: My Swim Pro]

The Butterfly is the most recent swimming style to feature in competition, held for the first time in 1933. Butterfly style owes its origins to the breaststroke and is swum on the chest as both arms move symmetrically cutting through the water while the dolphin kick also known as the butterfly kick pushes the swimmers ahead.

The Butterfly stroke is pretty difficult and often takes several years to master. It tests both the technique as well as the strength and endurance of the swimmers.

In the Olympics, the butterfly style was introduced for the first time in 1956. The two categories at Tokyo Olympics include:

  • 100m Butterfly
  • 200m Butterfly

Individual Medley

The individual medley is perhaps the greatest test for a competitive swimmer, especially at the Olympics. Participants are required to use all four strokes over a distance of 200m or 400m. The order of the strokes is: Backstroke, Breaststroke, Butterfly, Freestyle.

Two categories of Individual Medley will be held at the Tokyo Olympics for both men and women:

  • 200m Individual Medley
  • 400m Individual Medley

Freestyle Relay

Teams of four compete against each other in Relay races [Source: Wikipedia]

Teams of four swimmers will compete against each other in the freestyle swimming style in their pursuit of glory. The Freestyle Relay will have two categories for both men and women this year:

  • 4x100m Freestyle Relay
  • 4x200m Freestyle Relay

Medley Relay

The medley relay is a unique event every year as various swimmers representing their countries exhibit a variety of all four strokes in order to win the event. The order is the same as an individual medley which begins with a backstroke and ends with a freestyle. Teams usually include their top swimmer in each stroke creating all-star matchups against other countries.

The Medley Relay has just a single category which will be featured at the Tokyo Olympics:

  • 4x100m Medley Relay

Mixed Medley Relay

The Tokyo Olympics will mark the first mixed-gender swimming event with its inclusion of the Mixed Medley Relay. This event is exactly like the medley relay except that in this case, a team will consist of two men and two women instead of the usual four men or four women teams.

These men and women can swim any leg of the relay according to what they think would be the best for their team.

The Tokyo Olympics will feature:

  • 4x100m Mixed Medley Relay
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