The goal of competitive swimming is to be the fastest to swim a given distance. Competitive swimming became popular in the nineteenth century, and currently comprises 34 events - 17 male events and 17 female events. Swimming is a popular event at the Summer Olympic Games, where male and female athletes compete in 13 of the recognized events each. Olympic events are held in a 50 meter pool. Competitive swimming's international governing body is FINA (Fédération Internationale de Natation), the International Swimming Federation.
The four competitive strokes are the butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke, and freestyle (frontcrawl). Also, there are different times to get to different levels in these strokes. These strokes can be swum individually or together in an individual medley (IM). The IM order is: 1) butterfly, 2) backstroke, 3) breaststroke, and 4) freestyle. There are two types of relays: medley and freestyle. The medley relay order is: 1) backstroke, 2) breaststroke, 3) butterfly, and 4) freestyle. Each of the four swimmers in the relay swims a predetermined distance, dependent on the overall length of the relay. The three relay lengths are 200 meters or yards, 400 meters or yards, and 800 meters or yards (which is only swum freestyle). In a 50 meter pool, each swimmer swims one length for the 200 relay, two lengths for the 400 relay, and four lengths for the 800 relay. In a 25 meter or yard pool, each swimmer swims two lengths for the 200 relay, four lengths for the 400 relay, and eight lengths for the 800 relay. Many full-size competition pools in the United States have a length of 50 meters and a width of 25 yards, allowing both short course (25 m or 25 yd pool) and long course (50 m pool) races to be held.
There are a few types of judges: a starter sets off the swimmers; turn judges check that the swimmers' turns are within rules; swim judges check the swimmers' strokes; time keepers time the swims; and the referee checks that everything is running smoothly. If an official catches a swimmer breaking a rule concerning the stroke he or she is swimming, that swimmer is said to be disqualified (commonly referred to as "DQ'd" or "deaked") and the swim is not considered valid.
In the United States and the United Kingdom communities may sponsor competitive swimming leagues for children and teenagers, made up of swim teams. These leagues for the most part adhere to recognized swimming rules, swim the standard strokes, but swim shorter lengths as events in swim meets. These leagues are usually active in the warmer months, and are not directly associated with a national or world swim organization. However, swimmers who begin their competitive swimming experience on such a local swim team may go on to join a nationally-governed team.
In Australia such competition is usually conducted under the auspices of a club affiliated with the State Association which in turn is affiliated with Swimming Australia, the FINA accredited body. This provides a direct pathway to top level competition for those capable of taking it while still providing a more relaxed environment for those whose main intent is to have fun swimming competitively.