Why does swimming have some many more events at the Olympics than other sports?


It seems disproportionate to other sport, except maybe gymnastics. Some popular sports don’t even have any representation, like cricket or bowling or squash. How did swimming get so much representation?

In: 17

are you not aware of track and field?

On top of swimming, there are also running, jumping, diving, skiing, snowboarding, sledding, and skating. Possibly rowing and cycling too but I’m not sure. Anything that is a form of getting from a to b seems to have many forms of Olympic competition, as there are a variety of ways to do the thing

There are a lot of variants of swimming and track and field. Different distances, styles, relays…. They’re ancient sports and have been a part of the modern Olympics since the beginning.

A lot of other sports don’t have many variations. There’s only one way to play soccer, and tennis only comes in singles and doubles.

Boxing and weightlifting don’t have many variations but they do have multiple weight classes.

It’s primarily the insistence on copying every “freestyle” (that is, *actually* swim as fast as you can) event 3 times for the slower strokes.

To be fair, other Olympic events have variants that impose arbitrary constraints. You can run, but you can also run with stuff in the way (hurdles) or while wiggling your hips (racewalking), or while occasionally getting your shoes wet (steeplechase). However, those constrained events tend not to copy every event from normal racing. There isn’t a 100 meter racewalk or a 10k hurdles.

There also appears to be, and I’m not a sports scientist here and so can’t offer a proper explanation as to why, enough overlap in who is good at the four strokes and how you train for them that a very good swimmer is capable of competing in all four. By contrast, there is very little overlap between ordinary running and hurdles and essentially none with racewalking, so even though the events are mechanically similar, it’s a different cast of characters in each event.

Lastly, it’s possible that you’re coming at this from a US perspective. The US has long has a dominant swimming program, so local coverage often focuses on those races, including all the heats and variations. It gives lots of opportunities for Americans to see their country(wo)men win. It could well be that if you were from Jamaica you’d be complaining about all the sprinting.

It’s just the nature of the way the sport has evolved.

To start with, swimming is a racing sport, and as with most racing sports, this means that there will be different events for different lengths, allowing people to specialize in short vs. medium vs. long distances. In this regard, swimming is almost identical to track running events.

What gives swimming so many events compared to running, however, is the fact that there are essentially four different ways to swim: Freestyle, Backstroke, Breaststroke, and Butterfly. Because a swimmer can specialize in one (or all) of these, there are separate events for each, as well as an event called medley that combines all four.

By comparison, there arent four different ways to “run”, so swimming naturally ends up including more events.