Swimming is one of the world’s oldest sports. The most ancient and famous drawings depicting men swimming are found in the Kebir desert of Egypt and estimated to be about 6000 years old. Swimming is also referenced in many ancient texts, including the Bible, the Iliad and the Odyssey. Swimming was not a part of the ancient Olympic Games, but the Greeks were keen swimmers and held the activity in high regard.
Swimming was on the program of the first modern Olympic Games at Athens 1896 with just four events. As it would be at Paris 1900 and St. Louis 1904, the events were held in open water. A pool was used for the first time in Olympic competition at the London 1908 Games where a 100m outdoor pool was constructed inside the track at the White City Stadium. It was during these Games that representatives from eight European nations met and formed the Fédération International de Natation Amateur (FINA) which remains the international governing body for all aquatics disciplines.
Women first competed in Olympic swimming competition at the 1912 Games in Stockholm. Paris 1924 marked the debut of the 50m pool, which remains the standard for Olympic swimming events. There are eight competition lanes, bordered by an open lane on either end. Open water swimming returned to the Olympic Games at Beijing 2008 with 10km marathon events for men and women. Swimming has been part of the Pan American Games program since the inaugural edition in 1951.
All pool events begin with preliminary heats. In 50m, 100m and 200m events the 16 fastest swimmers advance to the semifinals from which the eight fastest swimmers advance to the final. In events of 400m and longer there are no semifinals so the eight fastest swimmers (or relay teams) advance directly to the final. If there is a tie for the last advancing placement, the swimmers involved are pitted in a head-to-head swim-off.
Swimmers are seeded according to their qualifying times so that the fastest swimmers are in the centre lanes of the pool while the slowest swimmers are in the outer lanes. Any swimmer who starts before the starting signal is given will be disqualified. There is no warning false start. If the starting signal sounds before the disqualification is declared, the race will continue and the violating swimmers will be disqualified upon completion of the race. If the disqualification is declared before the starting signal sounds, then the remaining swimmers will be called back to start again.