Swimming is both an individual and a team sport. The goal of competitive swimming is to beat the competitors in any given event. Swimming is an event at the Summer Olympic Games, where male and female athletes compete in 16 of the recognized events each. Olympic events are held in a 50-meter pool, called a long course pool.
In open water swimming, where the events are swum in a body of open water (lake or sea), there are also 5 km, 10 km and 25 km events for men and women. However, only the 10 km event is included in the Olympic schedule, again for both men and women. Open-water competitions are typically separate from other swimming competitions with the exception of the World Championships and the Olympics.
In competitive swimming, four major styles have been established. These have been relatively stable over the last 30–40 years with minor improvements. The four main strokes in swimming are:
- Freestyle (free): Also known as the crawl, this is the most popular stroke and the easiest for beginners to learn. It is a simple flutter kick and windmill arm motion, like the backstroke, only on your belly. The most difficult part is coordinating the breathing since your face is in the water most of the time. Notable freestyle swimmers are Haruka Nanase, Rin Matsuoka, Sosuke Yamazaki, Makoto Tachibana and Aiichiro Nitori.
- Breaststroke (breast): Breaststroke involves exquisite timing, and in fact, you can be disqualified from competition if you miss even one stroke. The stroke involves form that causes your body to bob up and down as you glide forward through the water. This is a difficult stroke and not one to choose if you're just learning how to swim. Your arms first pull, you breathe, and you shoot our arms out. You then do a whip kick (arms alternate with the kick), and glide in a streamline position. Notable breaststroke swimmers are Nagisa Hazuki and Aiichiro Nitori.
- Backstroke (back): Backstroke is easier than butterfly and breaststroke, and similar to freestyle in that you use an alternate windmill arm stroke and flutter kick. Two keys to a proper backstroke are that your arms move with equal strength (otherwise you will swim off to one side), and that your body rolls from side to side so that your arms catch enough water to propel you forward. Notable backstroke swimmers are Makoto Tachibana and Momotaro Mikoshiba.
- Butterfly (fly): Like breaststroke, fly is a difficult stroke and not recommended for beginners because it requires perfect timing and a good deal of strength. During the stroke, the legs move together in a dolphin kick (imagine a mermaid), the arms move together to push the water downward and backward, and the torso undulates like an earthworm as the body moves forward through the water. Notable butterfly swimmers are Rei Ryugazaki, Rin Matsuoka, Sosuke Yamazaki and Seijuro Mikoshiba.
Events in competition may have only one of these styles except in the case of the individual medley (aka. "IM"), which contains all four. In IM, swimmers swim equal distances of butterfly, then backstroke, breaststroke, and finally, freestyle. In Olympic competition, this event is swum in these distances - 200 or 400 meters or yards. Some competition also swims the 100 yard or meter IM - particularly, for younger swimmers (typically under 14 years) involved in club swimming, or masters swimming (over 18).
In the past two decades, the most drastic change in swimming has been the addition of the underwater dolphin kick. This is used to maximize the speed at the start and after the turns.
While the dolphin kick is mostly seen in middle-distance freestyle events and in all distances of backstroke and butterfly, it is not usually used to the same effect in freestyle sprinting.
While underwater dolphin kicking is allowed in freestyle, backstroke and butterfly, its use is not permitted in the same way in the breaststroke. In 2005, a new rule was formed stating that an optional downward dolphin kick may be used off the start and each turn, and it must occur during the breaststroke pullout. Any other dolphin kick will result in disqualification.
New rules were established to curtail excessive use of underwater dolphin kicks in freestyle, backstroke and butterfly. Currently, performing the dolphin kick past 15 meters results in a disqualification.
Swimming plays an important role in Free! anime series and High☆Speed！ light novel, as it is the main theme. Most of the characters that have appeared in the series are either swimmers or are affiliated with a swimmer it some way. The anime itself focuses on the Iwatobi High School Swim Club that four out of five main characters are part of. Most of the happening revolving around swimming are happening in Iwatobi Town, main characters' hometown.