Backstroke is one of the four swimming styles used in competitive events regulated by FINA, and the only one of these styles swum on the back. This swimming style has the advantage of easy breathing, but the disadvantage of swimmers not being able to see where they are going. It is also the only competition swimming style that has a different start. The swimming style is similar to an upside down front crawl or freestyle. Backstroke is an ancient style of swimming, popularized by Harry Hebner. It was the second stroke to be swum in competitions after the front crawl. The first Olympic backstroke competition was the 1900 Paris Olympics men's 200 meter.
Competitions: There are three common distances swum in competitive backstroke swimming, both over either a long course (50 m pool) or a short course (25 m pool). They are:
- 50 m backstroke
- 100 m backstroke
- 200 m backstroke
Other distances are also swum on occasions. Backstroke is also part of the medley over the following distances:
- 100 m individual medley (short course 25 m pool only)
- 200 m individual medley
- 400 m individual medley
- 4 × 100 m medley relay
Rules: Below are the official FINA rules which apply to swimmers during official competitions.
- Before the starting signal, the swimmers shall line up in the water facing the starting end, with both hands holding the starting grips. Standing in or on the gutter or bending the toes over the lip of the gutter is prohibited.
- At the signal for starting and after turning, the swimmer shall push off and swim upon his back throughout the race except when executing a turn. The normal position on the back can include a roll movement of the body up to, but not including 90 degrees from horizontal. The position of the head is not relevant.
- Some part of the swimmer must break the surface of the water throughout the race. 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.
- During the turn, the shoulders may be turned over the vertical to the breast after which a continuous single arm pull or a continuous simultaneous double arm pull may be used to initiate the turn. Once the body has left the position on the back, any kick or arm pull must be part of the continuous turning action. The swimmer must have returned to the position on the back upon leaving the wall. When executing the turn there must be a touch of the wall with some part of the swimmer’s body.
- Upon the finish of the race, the swimmer must touch the wall while on the back in his/her respective lane. Competitive swimmers frequently swing their arm back and down into the water, bringing the head and upper body with it. This creates a large amount of forward momentum into the wall. A single dolphin kick is used to keep the toes above water, and therefore, legal.