Swimming guide - London 2012 Olympic Games

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

Photograph: Swimming via Shutterstock

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 laps. That’s literally it.

RECOMMENDED: See our full list of London 2012 Olympic sport guides

Swimming - The essential guide

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 community-center dabblers who are either too fat or too old to do any other sport. 

Who’s good? The USA and Australia.

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 & Co. can swim without the aid of those futuristic onesies.’

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