Swimming guide - London 2012 Olympic Games

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Your complete guide to swimming ahead of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games

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Converted: Bona-fide Olympic legends use science, speed and skill to shatter records in one of London 2012’s highlights.

Confused: It’s people doing lengths. That’s literally it.

Swimming - The essential guide

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Street cred: Swimming leads a dual existence. There's the fast lane: brimming with ripped physiques and Olympic legends. And the slow lane: clogged up by leisure-centre dabblers who are either too fat or too old to do any other sport. 

Who’s good? The USA and Australia.

Glory-hunting potential: Beijing double gold medallist Rebecca Adlington is joined by a new generation of GB swimming talent. The women look particularly strong with Fran Halsall, Gemma Spofforth, Joanne Jackson and Paralympian Ellie Simmonds among the medal contenders.

The basics: Swimmers use four strokes: freestyle (or front crawl), breaststroke, backstroke and butterfly. A medley race combines all four. Distances range from the lighting quick 50m freestyle (one length) to the punishing 10k races in Hyde Park's Serpentine.

Athlete to watch: The return of Australia’s Ian Thorpe after four years out of the pool creates the mouth-watering prospect, if you’ll excuse the pun, of a renewed rivalry with Beijing multi-record breaker Michael Phelps.

Almost useless fact: The polyurethane swimsuits that were ubiquitous at Beijing 2008, where a staggering 25 world records were broken, were banned last year after being dubbed ‘technological doping’.

As featured in: Very few movies, if we're talking about competitive swimming, with notable exceptions being 2007's 'Pride' and 'Swimming Upstream' (2003). There is a well-received novel, though: ‘Swimming’ by Nicola Keegan (2009).

Do say: ‘It will be interesting to see how fast Phelps and co can swim without the aid of those futuristic baby grows.’

Don't say: 'What’s that purple cloud in the water?’

British Olympic hopeful - Fran Halsall

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Several people start out in a sport, and then give up. What made you persist?

I enjoy the competitiveness and it’s social – all the people around me are friends. Swimming every day, spending time with your friends and then travelling the world with them – it’s perfect.

If the monarchy suddenly disbanded, which song would you want played at your gold-medal ceremony instead of the national anthem?

It's has to be something cheesy like 'The One and Only' by Chesney Hawkes or Tina Turner's ‘Simply the Best’.

What's your favourite spot in London?

The Hummingbird Bakery in Liverpool Street.

Do you have any superstitions or mental tricks?

I always push my goggles into my eyes right until they say go. I'm so scared of my goggles coming off in the race, it’s ridiculous. So I'm forever sticking them into my eyeballs further and further.

What does your diet consist of, and how does it change when you're training?

My diet consists of lots of everything because you have to get in all the calories you need to be able to swim 50,000 metres a week.

What physical aspect of yourself are you most proud of? And which aspect are you least proud of?

My giant wing span, because my arms are very long, which helps. I’m least proud of my chicken calves.

What is the most common misconception about your sport?

That butterfly's the hardest stroke. I'd definitely say it's the breaststroke.

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