Freestyle is a category of swimming competition, defined by the rules of the International Swimming Federation (FINA), in which competitors are subject to few limited restrictions on their swimming stroke. Freestyle races are the most common of all swimming competitions, with distances beginning with 50 meters (50 yards) and reaching 1500 meters (1650 yards), also known as the mile. The term freestyle is sometimes used incorrectly as a synonym for front crawl, when in fact it means one is mostly free to choose a style.
The 1904 Olympics freestyle race was the only one ever measured at 100 yards, instead of the usual 100 meters. A 100-meter pool was built for the 1908 Olympics and sat in the center of the main stadium's track and field oval. The 1912 Olympics, held in the Stockholm harbor, marked the beginning of electronic timing. The 1924 Olympics was the first to use the standard 50 meter pool with marked lanes. In freestyle events, swimmers originally dove from the pool walls, but diving blocks were eventually incorporated at the 1936 Olympics.
Technique: Freestyle swimming implies the use of legs and arms for competitive swimming, except in the case of the individual medley or medley relay events. The front crawl is most commonly chosen by swimmers, as this provides the greatest speed. During a race, the competitor circles the arms forward in alternation, kicking the feet up and down (flutter kick). During the Olympic Games, front crawl is swum almost exclusively during freestyle. Some of the few rules state that swimmers must touch the end of the pool during each length and cannot push off the bottom, hang on the wall, or pull on the lane lines during the course of the race. As with all competitive events, false starts can lead to disqualification of the swimmer.
Rules and regulation: Freestyle means "any style" for individual swims and any style but breaststroke, butterfly, or backstroke for both the individual medley, and medley relay competitions. The wall has to be touched at every turn and upon completion. Some part of the swimmer must be above water at any time, except for the first 15 meters after the start and every turn. This rule was introduced to prevent swimmers from using the faster underwater swimming to their advantage, or even swimming entire laps underwater. The exact FINA rules are:
- Freestyle means that in an event so designated the swimmer may swim any style, except that in individual medley or medley relay events, freestyle means any style other than backstroke, breaststroke, or butterfly
- Some part of the swimmer must touch the wall upon completion of each length and at the finish
- Some part of the swimmer must break the surface of the water throughout the race, except it shall be permissible for the swimmer to be completely submerged during the turn and for a distance of not more than 15 meters after the start and each turn. By that point the head must have broken the surface
Competitions: There are nine competitions used in freestyle swimming, both using either a long course (50 meter) or a short course (25 meter) pool.
- 50 m freestyle (50 yards for short course yards)
- 100 m freestyle (100 yards for short course yards)
- 200 m freestyle (200 yards for short course yards)
- 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 x 40 yards for shout course yards)
- 4 × 100 m freestyle relay (4 x 100 yards for short course yards)
- 4 × 200 m freestyle relay (4 x 200 yards for short course yards)
Young swimmers (typically 8 years old and younger) have the option to swim a 25 yard/meter 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 (200 yard individual medley in short course yards)
- 400 m individual medley (400 yards individual medley in short course yards)
- 4 × 100 m medley relay (4 x 100 yard medley relay in short course yards)
In the long distance races of the 800 meter (1,000 yards) and 1500 meter (1650 yards), some meets hosted by FINA (including the Olympics) only have the 800 meter (1,000 yards) distance for women and the 1500 meter (1650 yards) distance for men.