Freestyle is a category of swimming competition, defined by the rules of the International Swimming Federation (FINA), in which competitors are subject to only limited restrictions on their swimming stroke. (In other words, they have great freedom with respect to their swimming style.) Freestyle races are the most common of all swimming styles, with distances reaching 1500m or 1650 yards.The stroke used almost universally in freestyle races is the front crawl, as this style is generally the fastest. For this reason, the term freestyle is sometimes used as a synonym for front crawl.


There are eight common competitions that are 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).

  • 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)
  • 4×50 m freestyle relay
  • 4×100 m freestyle relay
  • 4×200 m freestyle relay

Young swimmers (typically 8 years old and younger) have the option to swim a 25 yard/metre freestyle event.

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, some 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 the FINA World Championships, as well as many other meets, have both distances for both genders.


The freestyle swimming stroke, or Australian Crawl, is the most efficient way for a human to move through the water. It was developed in Sydney in the late 1890s.

Australian Crawl

The freestyle swimming stroke was thought to haveoriginated in Australia which is partially true.The stroke used to be called the “Australian Crawl”because competitive swimmers from Australia werewinning events with this stroke.It is said the freestyle was originally from the pacificislands possibly the Solomon’s

Solomon Islands

There is a story which is probably true about a boy fromthe Solomon Islands who went to work in Australia inthe 1800’s.He used to swim in one of the local pools using thisstroke and someone pointed out that it looked like hewas crawling.A swim coach took the basics of this stroke and refinedit to what is the freestyle of today.The Australians were winning races with this stroke andthe world took notice.

First Olympic Games

The first modern Olympic Games in 1896 had only fourswimming events, three of them freestyle.Two of these events were the 100 meters and 1500 metersfreestyle races that were held in the open water.In 1922, Johnny Weissmuller was the first person to breakthe one minute mark in the 100 meter freestyle swimmingit in 51 seconds, it was called the Australian crawl backthen.

He held this record for over 17 years.He also won five Olympic medals and 36 nationalchampionships and never lost a race in his career of tenyears.He later went on to play Tarzan in a series of movies,always shown swimming in a small body of water orfighting an alligator underwater.


Swimming can be dated back to the Stone Age, but did not truly become an organised sport until the early 19th century.

An Ancient Discipline

Prehistoric man learnt to swim in order to cross rivers and lakes – we know this because cave paintings from the Stone Age depicting swimmers have been found in Egypt. Swimming was also referred to in Greek mythology.

Dawn of a Sport

Swimming was not widely practised until the early 19th century, when the National Swimming Society of Great Britain began to hold competitions. Most early swimmers used the breaststroke, or a form of it.

Discovering the Crawl

Based on a stroke used by native South Americans, the first version of the crawl featured a scissor kick. In the late 1880s, an Englishman named Frederick Cavill travelled to the South Seas, where he saw the natives performing a crawl with a flutter kick. Cavill settled in Australia, where he taught the stroke that was to become the famous Australian crawl.

Olympic History

Swimming has featured on the programme of all editions of the Games since 1896. The very first Olympic events were freestyle (crawl) or breaststroke. Backstroke was added in 1904.

In the 1940s, breaststrokers discovered that they could go faster by bringing both arms forward over their heads. This practice was immediately forbidden in breaststroke, but gave birth to butterfly, whose first official appearance was at the 1956 Games in Melbourne. This style is now one of the four strokes used in competition.

Women’s swimming became Olympic in 1912 at the Stockholm Games. Since then, it has been part of every edition of the Games. The men’s and women’s programmes are almost identical, as they contain the same number of events, with only one difference: the freestyle distance is 800 metres for women and 1,500 metres for men.

Governing Bodies

International Swimming Federation (FINA)

International Swimming Federation(FINA) is the International Federation (IF) recognized by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for administering international competition in Aquatics. It is one of several IFs which administer a given sport/discipline for the IOC and/or international community. It is based in Lausanne, Switzerland.
FINA currently oversees competition in five aquatics sports: swimming, diving, synchronized swimming, water polo and open water swimming. Beginning in 2013, high diving is an emerging discipline within FINA. FINA also oversees “Masters” competition (for adults) in its disciplines.On July 24, 2009, Julio Maglione of Uruguay was elected FINA President.


FINA was founded on July 19, 1908 in the Manchester Hotel in London, UK at the end of the 1908 Summer Olympics by the Belgian, British, Danish, Finnish, French, German, Hungarian and Swedish Swimming Federations.

Number of national federations by year:

  • 1908: 8
  • 1928: 38
  • 1958: 75
  • 1978: 106
  • 1988: 109
  • 2000: 174
  • 2008: 197
  • 2010: 202
  • 2012: 203

The FINA membership meets every four years, usually coinciding with the World Championships. There are two types of normal or “ordinary” congress: General and Technical. FINA’s highest authority is the General Congress. Any technical issues concerning FINA’s five aquatic disciplines are decided by the Technical Congress. Each Congress has two voting members from each Member federation, plus the following non-voting members: the 22 members of the Bureau, the Honorary Life President, and all Honorary Members. The Technical Congress has the following additional non-voting members: all members from the respective Technical Committees. “Extraordinary” Congress are also called from time to time, to deal with a specific topic or area of concern (e.g., an Extraordinary Congress was held with the 2009 World Championships to review the Masters swimming rules; there was a General Congress at the 2009 Worlds). All Congress meetings are chaired by FINA’s president.


FINA organizes one championship involving each of the five disciplines it oversees (the “World Championships”), as well championships and circuits in each of the disciplines.

World Championships

The biggest FINA event is the biennial World Championships, currently held every odd year. It features competitions in all five aquatic disciplines. Prior to 2000, the event was held every 4 years, in the even year between (Summer) Olympic Games.

Discipline Championships
  • Swimming: World Swimming Championships (25m), (aka “Short Course Worlds”). Bi-annual event (in even years), swum in 25-meter length pool (Olympic and World Championships are in a 50m pool).
  • Water Polo: Water Polo World Leagues (men’s and women’s).
  • Diving: Diving World Series
  • Open Water: World Open Water Swimming Championships (aka “Open Water Worlds”). Even years from 2000-2010.
  • Synchronized Swimming: Synchro World Cup.
  • Masters:World Masters Championships (aka “Masters Worlds”). Bi-annual, in even years. “Masters” competition is for adults (20 years old and up). This championships features all 5 disciplines.
Other Events

In addition to the championships events listed above, FINA also organizes the following annual events, and sub-championships:

  • World Cups: in swimming, water polo (men’s, women’s), diving, high diving, open water (10Ks) and synchro.
  • Grand Prix: Annual race/competition series of multiple events in open water (races over 10-kilometers).
  • Junior Worlds: A world-level championships restricted to a younger age population (typically under-18, though can vary by discipline/gender). Held in swimming, water polo, diving, and synchronized swimming. Open Water is to begin in 2012.

Game Rules

Freestyle, also sometimes called the front crawl, is perhaps the most common stroke that recreational swimmers perform. The stroke strengthens your abs and glutes, and like almost any type of swimming, burns calories. Competitive freestyle is a fast-paced race, even in distance events. Rules and regulations for swimming the freestyle are upheld by governing body, FINA, the Federation Internationale de Natation.

Starts and Finishes

The rules regarding starts and finishes for freestyle are easy to understand and follow. The freestyle start is a forward start — you must be moving in a forward fashion toward the other end of the pool. You are allowed to keep your entire body and head submerged for up to 15 meters after your start and each turn, but after that distance, your head must break the surface of the water. The freestyle finish occurs when any part of your body touches the wall after you have completed the race. For most competitive swimmers, this is a one-handed touch.

Stroke Mechanics

The term “freestyle” means that you can swim in any style he likes. In a technical sense, you are free to swim backstroke, sidestroke or any other stroke you choose in a freestyle race. The exception to this rule is during a medley event in which you are already swimming backstroke, butterfly and breaststroke. In this case, you cannot repeat a stroke and must choose a fourth, unique stroke. In competition, however, freestyle refers to the front crawl stroke. The stroke is performed on the stomach with an overhand arm stroke and a flutter kick. Unlike the butterfly, backstroke and breaststroke, competitive swimmers cannot be disqualified for performing the arms or kick incorrectly.


Freestyle turns are performed in either an open or flip-style. Both types of turns are legal as long as part of your body touches the wall before you return to the other side of the pool. The hand is usually the body part that touches the wall during an open turn. Your feet touch and push off from the wall in a flip turn. Touching the wall with any other body part, such as the back, buttocks, shoulder or elbow, is inefficient from a racing perspective, but is not grounds for disqualification.


Competitive swimmers may disqualify themselves from a freestyle race if they do not adhere to additional rules regarding their activity in the pool. Swimmers who walk with their feet touching the bottom of the pool during a race, or forcefully pull on the lane lines are disqualified from that particular race. However, according to the USA Swimming 2013 Rule Book, a swimmer who stands still in the pool during the freestyle, and stays in the water until the heat is completed, will not be disqualified. Accidentally bumping into the lane lines is not grounds for disqualification. Refraining from touching the wall during a turn also disqualifies you from a freestyle race.


Goggles: Used to protect the eyes and improve visibility underwater

Lap Card: A card displayed by a turn judge at the turn side of a lane to inform swimmers in 800m and 1500m freestyle events.

Starting Blocks

Swimming Cap: Used to keep hair clear of eyes.

Swim Suit

Touch Pad: The pad at the end of each lane in the pool where a swimmer’s time is registered and sent electronically to the timing system.