eli5 Why are there multiple swimming techniques in sports?

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I guess this applies to many different sports but it seems even more obvious in swimming. Why bother with imposing styles or technique if the only goal is to go as fast as possible?

Like with the high jump. The way people do it now is more efficient than the way they did it a hundred years ago so athletes adapted, they didn’t create categories to keep the older technique relevant. What am I missing?

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Because the form is part of the goal. It’s like asking why you can’t use your hands in soccer when basketball has the same goal of outscoring your opponent. They’re just different.

There are races for “go as fast as possible”, these are called “freestyle”. There are swimming reasons for the breast-stroke and back-stroke. The butterfly stroke was considered by some the fastest stroke, but as athletes got better the Australian crawl became the dominant stroke in freestyle competitions. Butterfly was kept around because it makes for some great photos.

It is, in the end arbitrary what we decide as an event in sports. But different forms are different sports and require different skills.

We don’t equate the shot putt, javelin and discus. You could generalize and say “it is simply throwing something the longest distance” so why bother with 3 events.

Or 100m, 400m, 800m, marathon etc. It is simply running fast – so why bother with multiple events. Just have one race.

The goal is not always to go as fast as possible. The goal is to go as fast as possible with certain restriction. Some strokes are harder than others, so the goal is go fast while using a difficult stroke.

It’s the same reason why runners have hurdles, or sailboats don’t have engines. You mention the high jump, but even that jump is limited because you can jump much higher using a pole in the pole vault.

That being said, there is the freestyle competition, where you can use whatever style you want to go as fast as possible.

Apparently there is enough spectator interest. They get more events for the sport. More money, power etc. for the sport.

Fastest swimming technique is the dolphin kick under water. That’s why they have set limit how far you can stay immersed after a start/turn.

Olympic high jump and long jump used to have no-run-up events, but they feigned in popularity and were dropped. High jump probably isn’t popular enough to have two styles of competition. Field events are already the less popular half under the Track & Field umbrella.