Swimming at the Olympic Games requires both physical endurance and mental stamina. The Olympic swimming competition is made up of four strokes and lasts eight days, and many swimmers compete in more than one event.
In addition, winning gold frequently requires swimming an event more than once.
Format of the Olympic Swimming Competition
At the beginning of the Olympic swimming meet, athletes in each event are seeded in heats based on their fastest times prior to the Olympic Games. In the preliminary heats, swimmers are circle seeded, which means the swimmers with the fastest seed times are not in the same heats.
In the 50-, 100- and 200-meter events, the top 16 swimmers advance to a semifinal round, in which athletes are again placed in lanes based on the times they swam in the preliminary heats. In the 400-, 800- and 1,500-meter events, the top 16 swimmers advance straight to the final round, where they are again seeded based on the times they achieved in the preliminary heats. In the final heats, the swimmers with the fastest times are placed in the middle of the pool, while swimmers with lower qualifying times are placed toward the outsides of the pool.
Disqualifications in Swimming Events
Because there are so many strokes and events contested at the Olympic Games, there are all kinds of reasons that swimmers can be disqualified, or "DQed." However, because Olympic swimmers compete at such an elite level, disqualifications are not common.
Most frequently, elite-level swimmers are disqualified for false starts, which means that the swimmer left the block and started swimming too early. In an individual event, swimmers can false start if they leave the starting block before the signal to begin. In a relay, a swimmer can false start if he or she leaves the block before the swimmer in the water touches the wall.
Swimming at the 2012 Olympic Games in London
In total, 17 men's and 17 women's events are scheduled to be contested at the 2012 Olympic Games in London. There are a total of 950 spots available for swimmers. Each country can send two qualified athletes per individual event and one team per relay event.
The swimming competition is scheduled to begin on July 28,-Aug. 4, 2012, and the majority of the events will be contested in the Aquatics Centre. The only exception are the open water events, which are scheduled to be held in The Serpentine in Hyde Park.
Sandra Johnson was a competitive swimmer for more than 15 years before she began coaching. She is a longtime Olympic fan, and while working for the United States Olympic Committee in Colorado Springs, Colo., she had the opportunity to immerse herself in the Olympic Movement. Follow her on Twitter: @SandraJohnson46.