Swimming as a competitive sport was part of the modern Olympics even from the beginning in 1896, and at first, the contestants swam in the Mediterranean and later on the races were moved to swimming pools, where they are still conducted these days.
Nowadays, swimming is an international sport in which athletes have to follow a set of universal rules established by the International Swimming Federation (FINA). The same authority has defined the type of races, the distances and age groups swimmers can compete in.
When it comes to swimming races, there are five types of events, four corresponding to the basic strokes and one medley, which combines all four swimming styles. The strokes used in competitive swimming are backstroke, breaststroke, butterfly and freestyle, the last of which can be a front crawl.
Let’s get into more details regarding the medley swimming. As its name suggests, medley is a mix of all the swimming styles – a race in which a different stroke is used for each length. It basically combines swimming, kicking and drilling of backstroke, butterfly stroke, freestyle, and breaststroke.
This type of swimming race can be an individual medley, when it is swum by one contestant, or a medley relay, when it is swum by four swimmers.
As per the FINA rules, an individual medley event is that in which just one swimmer swims, in one race, four different strokes in equal distances. Also, the swimmer has to use the four swimming strokes in a specific order – butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke and freestyle – and each of the strokes must cover one quarter (1/4) of the distance.
As such, the distance of competitions must be either four lengths of the swimming pool or a multiple of four lengths. At the moment, the Olympics include 200 metre or yard individual medley races, swum in both long and short course competitions.
When it comes to medley relay events, things are a little bit different, as swimmers have to begin the race with backstroke and then change to breaststroke, butterfly and freestyle. Backstroke is the first swimming style in this type of race as this stroke is started from the water and this helps avoid incidents between swimmers, as otherwise they could block each other. The order of the remaining strokes was established according to speed.
Although usually in a freestyle event the swimmer may swim any style, according to the FINA rules, in individual medley or medley relay events, freestyle is defined as any style other than backstroke, breaststroke or butterfly. That’s why most swimmers use the front crawl as a freestyle stroke.
Medley relays have been part of the Olympic games since the 1960 Summer Olympics. This type of race is now swum by both men and women, and there are also mixed-gender relays. The latter were first introduced at the 2014 FINA World Swimming Championships in 32014 and the World Aquatics Championships a year later. As for the Olympics, the event will debut at the well-known competition in the summer of 2020.