SOURCE: USS SwimFactPact (unedited)
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What to Watch in a Swim Meet

The Racing Course
The length of a long course racing pool is 50 meters. World Records may only be set in 50-meter (long course) or 25-meter pools. FINA added the 25-meter world record at the 1991 FINA Congress in Perth, Australia.

The competitive pool has a minimum of eight lanes, each lane anywhere from seven to nine feet wide. The racing course must be at least four feet deep and is frequently deeper. The top pools in the U.S. are six to nine feet deep.

The water temperature must be between 78 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

The front edge of the starting blocks are 30 inches above the surface of the water.

The Meet
There are 14 individual events and three relays for men and women in a swimming meet. In the Olympic Games there are only 13 individual events and three relays for men and women.

In the Olympics, men do not swim an 800 meter freestyle and the women do not swim a 1500 meter freestyle. Traditionally, women have not swum the 4x200m free relay, but they will beginning in 1996.

Freestyle Events
In the freestyle, the competitor may swim any stroke he or she wishes. The usual stroke used is the Australian Crawl. This stroke is characterized by the alternate overhand motion of the arms and a flutter kick which can be either a six beat or two beat per stroke cycle rhythm.

The slower two beat kick is used in the distance races, while the faster, six-beat kick is used in the sprint events and at the very end of the distance races.

The freestyle is swum in 50, 100, 200, 400, 800 and 1500 meter distances at the Olympic Games. Women's events do not include the 1500-meter freestyle, while the men's schedule of events does not include the 800-meter freestyle.

In the backstroke the swimmer must stay on his or her back, except during the turns. The stroke is an alternating motion of the arms much like the crawl stroke - with a flutter kick..

Since April of 1991, a swimmer is no longer required to touch the wall with his or her hand before executing the turn maneuver. The key to proper interpretation of the backstroke rule is the phrase "continuous turning action", i.e., a uniform, unbroken motion with no pauses. In a more technical interpretation, after the shoulder rotates beyond the vertical toward the breast, a continuous simultaneous double arm pull may be used to initiate the turn. There shall be no kick, arm pull, or floatation that is independent of the turn. The position of the head is not relevant.

In all U.S. Swimming and FINA competition, each swimmer's head must surface within 15 meters of the start of the race. This is a change from the 1988 FINA rule change which stated that a swimmer must surface within 10 meters of the start of a race. The rule was passed after America's David Berkoff set a world record in Seoul using a 35-meter underwater start, nicknamed the "Berkoff Blastoff" by NBC swimming commentator John Naber.

Backstroke races are swum in 100 and 200 meter distances.

Perhaps one of the most difficult strokes to master, the breaststroke requires simultaneous movements of the arms on the same horizontal plane. The hands are pushed forward from the breast on or under the surface of the water and brought backward in the propulsive stage of the stroke simultaneously.

The kick is a simultaneous thrust of the legs called a "frog" or breaststroke kick. No flutter or dolphin kicking is allowed.

Swimmers must touch the wall with both hands at the same time before executing their turn.

Breaststroke race distances are 100 and 200 meters.

The most physically demanding stroke, the butterfly features the simultaneous overhead stroke of the arms combined with the dolphin kick. The dolphin hick features both legs moving up and down together. No flutter kicking is allowed.

As in the breaststroke, swimmers must touch the wall with both hands before turning.

The butterfly was "born" in the early 1950's as a loophole in the breaststroke rules and in 1956 became an Olympic event in Melbourne, Australia.

Butterfly races are swum in 100 and 200 meter distances.

Individual Medley
The individual medley, commonly referred to as the "I.M.," features all four competitive strokes. In the I.M. a swimmer begins with the butterfly, changes to the backstroke after one-fourth of the race, then the breaststroke for another quarter and finally finishes with the freestyle. The "no-touch" backstroke rule comes into play in the individual medley events in that the new turn may be used in the 400-meter IM (100 meters of each stroke) only in the middle of the backstroke leg. The new turn may not be used in the backstroke to breaststroke turn, however, and is therefore not allowed in a long course 200-meter individual medley race.

The IM is swum in 200 and 400 meter distances.

Medley Relay
In the medley relay all four strokes are swum by four different swimmers. No swimmer may swim more than one leg of the relay, which is swum in backstroke, breaststroke, butterfly and freestyle order. Additionally it is possible to see a world record in the 100 meter backstroke (the first leg) in this race. Jeff Rouse, the current men's world record holder in the 100-meter backstroke, set that mark swimming the lead-off leg for the 1991 U.S. team at the Pan Pacific Championships in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada and again on the '92 Olympic team in Barcelona.

The medley relay is 400 meters--or 4x100 meters.

Freestyle Relays
There are two freestyle relays--400 and 800 meters. In the freestyle relays four swimmers swim one fourth of the proscribed distance. As in the medley relay, no individual may swim more than one leg of the relay.

Starts end Turns
Many races are lost in poor starts and turns. In the start, the swimmer is called to starting position by the starter who visually checks that all swimmers are in the down positions and still. Then, once the sorter is satisfied, the race is started by either a gun or electronic tone.

If the starter feels that one of the swimmers has jumped early, the race will be recalled and the offending swimmer disqualified.

Quick turns are essential to a good race. In all events the swimmer must touch the wall, but in the freestyle and as of April '91, the backstroke, the swimmer may somersault as he or she reaches the wall, touching only with the feet. In the other two competitive strokes, the swimmer must touch the wall with one or both hands before executing the turn.

The sprint races (50 and 100 meters) are an all-out scramble from start to finish. The slightest mistake can cost precious hundredths of seconds--and the race.

The 200 meter events require the swimmer to have a sense of pace as well as the ability to swim a controlled sprint. This distance is considered by many swimmers to be the most difficult to master.

The 400, 800 and 1500 meter freestyles require the swimmer to constantly be aware of where they are in the water and the fatigue of their muscles. Swimming the first portion of the race too fast can sap a swimmer's strength and cause a poor finish. Swimming the first portion of the race too slowly can separate the swimmer from the pack and make catching up impossible.

Swimmers may elect to swim the race evenly (holding the same pace throughout the race) or they may "negative split" the race. A negative split occurs when the swimmer covers the second half of a race faster than the first half. In the late 1970s and early '80s "negative splitting" was considered the way to win a distance race. World Records have been set by Janet Evans and Jorg Hoffman using "even pace" strategies as well.

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