10 Things You Didn’t Know About Competitive Swimming

Saturday, February 16, 2008 | 9:07 p.m. CST; updated 12:39 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

10. According to USA Swimming, of about 250,000 athletes registered with USA Swimming each year, only 52 (26 men, 26 women) are chosen every four years for the Olympics.

9. The fastest meet in the world is not the Olympics. At the U.S. Olympic trials, the American swimmers who don’t get a chance to go to the Olympics, because of the two swimmer per individual event limit, are often faster than the top swimmers from other countries.

8. Short course pools are much faster than long course pools (50 meters long, the format for the Missouri Grand Prix and the Olympics), and times in yard pools are several seconds faster than times in meter pools.

7. Women begin swimming on the national team at a much younger age than men. There are 16 swimmers younger than 20 on the U.S. Women’s National Team. The men’s team has four.

6. Swimmers swim, well, a lot. An athlete like Katie Hoff will swim anywhere from five to nine miles on an average day of practice.

5. Leading up to a big meet, swimmers use a process called tapering, decreasing the distance they swim in practice. The method allows their bodies to rest and recover, and generally leads to faster times.

4. The butterfly is the only one of the four competitive strokes that was “invented.” Henry Myers developed an out-of-water arm recovery for the breaststroke in 1933 and the modified stroke, with an added dolphin kick, became an official event in 1953.

3. Originally, men wore full-body suits made of wool in races. The trend to smaller suits was a gradual process, peaking in the 1970s. Ironically, men are once again competing in full-body suits, albeit with a much more specialized material.

2. The new Speedo suit that debuted at the Missouri Grand Prix this weekend, the Lzr, is expected to cost at least $550. The suit utilizes NASA technology and is said to decrease passive drag by 5 to 10 percent. The material on the suit is welded together so there are no seams and is water-repellant.

1. A 10th of a second means a lot. Four races at the 2004 Athens Olympics were decided by less than 0.1 seconds, and 18 races were within 0.5 seconds. One race, the men’s 50-meter freestyle, was decided by 0:0.01.

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