The Olympics require a special pool to help swimmers go as fast as they can, specific swimsuits, and trained officials, all to make the competition as fair and as fast as possible.
The Olympic pool is fast by design, trying to give swimmers the best opportunity for a record-breaking performance.
- The race course of an Olympic swimming pools is 50-meters long, at least 25-meters wide and is at least 2-meters (over 6 feet) deep (sometimes deeper, as "deeper = faster" because waves won't bounce off the bottom and interfere with the swimmer). The pool has at least 8, 2.5-meter wide swimming lanes. Besides the pool's depth, the pool's lane ropes (also called lane lines, the thick "ropes" between each lane), the gutters, walls, and circulation system are all designed to minimize waves and turbulence.
- The pool has starting blocks at each end. These are elevated starting platforms used by freestyle, breaststroke, and butterfly swimmers. The blocks also have handles near the water for backstroke swimmers to use for their starts.
- The pools have an automatic timing system started when the electronic signal is initiated (the swimmers here a beep) and stopped when the swimmer touches the end wall "touch pad" in their lane. This system also allows for mid-race times to be easily seen.
- To keep backstroke swimmers from crashing into the wall on their turns and finishes, a string of flags is suspended above the pool 5-meters from the end of the pool. The lane ropes also change color at the 5-meter mark.
- Swimmers wear suits (closely regulated by FINA - suits must be pre-approved months before the Olympic games) and goggles. Most swimmers also wear swim caps. All of these are designed to help the swimmer, with the idea of minimizing drag kept at the forefront.
- At the Olympic games, some people think that the fastest swimmers are usually wearing the fastest suits, too. At least that is what the suit's manufacturer wants everyone to think!
There are starters, referees, judges, back-up timers, and more working at the Olympic swimming competition. They make sure the rules are enforced.
- Officials are highly trained.
- In most cases the officials have years of experience before they are asked to work the Olympics.
Awards - Gold, Silver and Bronze
Only two swimmers per country are allowed to compete in any individual swimming event. Some countries might not have any entries in some events or might have only one entry, all based on how many of their swimmers achieved Olympic qualifying times. Each country that qualifies a relay is allowed to enter one relay team; the swimmers on that relay team might change between the preliminary heats and the finals.
- Each Olympic swimming heat has a maximum of eight swimmers, but there can be multiple heats for any event.
- There are preliminaries in the 50m, 100m and 200m distances, followed by the top 16 moving to two semi-final heats, with the winner of each semi-final plus the next 6 fastest swimmers moving to the finals.
- In the relays and longer individual events the eight fastest finishers in the preliminary heats move straight to the finals.
- In the finals, it is simple. The fastest swimmer gets the the gold medal, second gets the silver medal, and third gets the bronze medal.
- Finish times are taken to the hundredth (.00). Because of this, ties could (and do) occur if multiple swimmers finish a race with identical times. If a tie occurs in a preliminary (a tie for 16th) or semi-final (a tie for 8th) that would cause more than the appropriate number of swimmers to advance to the next round, a swim-off occurs between the tied swimmers.
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