What Measurement of Time is Used for Olympic Swimming Competitions?

The Olympic swimming competitions are based on a measurement of time that is different from the one that we use in our everyday lives.

Checkout this video:


In swimming, as with most sports, time is of the essence. The faster you swim, the better your chances of winning. But just how is time measured in swimming competitions? In this article, we’ll take a look at the different types of measurements used in Olympic swimming competitions.

First, let’s start with the basics: Olympic swimming competitions are held in a pool that is 50 meters long. The pool is divided into two 25-meter sections, with each section having its own starting and finish lines. A swimmer must touch the end of the pool at the finish line to complete a lap.

There are four main types of swimming events: freestyle, breaststroke, butterfly, and backstroke. In freestyle events, swimmers can use any stroke they want. Breaststroke, butterfly, and backstroke are all separate strokes that must be used in their respective events.

Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s take a look at how time is measured in Olympic swimming competitions.

The History of Timekeeping in Swimming

The first swimming competition took place in 1769 in London, England, and it was a bare-knuckle boxing match held in the River Thames. The fight, between two men named Jack Broughton and George Taylor, was won by Broughton after he knocked Taylor unconscious.

The first recorded swimming race took place in 1844, between two men named John Trudgen and Robert Walker. The race was held in the River Thames and was won by Trudgen.

In 1873, the first swimming championships were held in England. The event was open to men only and was won by William hardy.

In 1904, the first Olympic Games were held in St. Louis, Missouri, United States of America. Swimming was one of the sports included in the program and the events were held in a pool measuring 50 meters (164 feet) long. The timekeeping for the swimming events was done using stopwatches and the results were expressed in time units of minutes and seconds.

In 1925, an automatic timing system for measuring swim times was invented by Auerbach and M backhausen . This system used electrical contacts placed at either end of the pool which would start and stop a clock when broken by a swimmer. This system improved the accuracy of timekeeping for swimming competitions and paved the way for electronic timing systems that are used today.

The first electronic timing system for swimming was introduced at the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne, Australia. This system used a photoelectric cell to detect when a swimmer touched the end of the pool and trigger a stopwatch . This system improved upon the accuracy of previous timing systems and is still used today alongside more sophisticated electronic timing systems .

The Different Types of Timers Used in Swimming

There are three different types of timers used in swimming competitions: manually-operated stopwatches, automatic timing (AT) devices, and fully-automatic timing (FAT) systems.

Manually-operated stopwatches are the simplest type of timer and have been used in swimming competitions for many years. The Swim Official operating the stopwatch starts it when the swimmer leaves the starting block and stops it when the swimmer touches the finishing wall. The time is then noted and recorded.

Automatic timing (AT) devices were introduced in the 1950s and have been in use at major swimming competitions since then. AT devices are linked to a starting block and a finishing wall, and they automatically start and stop when the swimmer leaves the block and touches the wall. The time is then recorded by the AT device.

Fully-automatic timing (FAT) systems were introduced in the 1980s and are now used at all major swimming competitions. FAT systems use electronic sensors to automatically start and stop the timer when the swimmer leaves the block and touches the wall. The time is then displayed on a large scoreboard or screen for all to see.

The Pros and Cons of Different Timing Methods

When it comes to timing Olympic swimming races, there are four different methods that have been used over the years: manual timing, photographic finish, touch-pad timing, and fully automatic timing. Each of these methods has its own pros and cons, which is why the decision of which one to use is not an easy one. Here is a look at the pros and cons of each timing method:

Manual Timing
– easy to set up and use
– can be used with any type of pool
– very accurate

– requires a lot of manpower
– can be slow in detecting a finish
– can be subject to human error

Photographic Finish
– very accurate
– can be used with any type of pool
– faster than manual timing


– requires a lot of manpower
– can be subject to human error

Touch-Pad Timing


– More accurate than manual timing

– Automatically records time when swimmer completes race

– Reduces need for manpower


– Can be expensive to set up touch pads in an Olympic size pool

The Future of Timing in Swimming

With the advent of new technology, the future of timing in swimming is likely to change. In the past, analog watches were used to time swimmers. However, now that digital watches are more common, it is likely that digital timing will eventually be used in swimming competitions. While this change may seem small, it could have a major impact on how swimmers are timed in competition.

One of the benefits of digital timing is that it is more accurate than analog timing. This means that swimmers will be able to swim with more precise times, which could lead to faster times overall. Additionally, digital timing allows for a greater level of customization. For example, if a swimmer wants to know their exact time for each length of the pool, they can easily set their watch to do so.

While there are many benefits to using digital timing in swimming competitions, there are also some drawbacks. One of the biggest drawbacks is that digital timing is still new and untested in the world of competitive swimming. This means that there could be some glitches or problems that arise when it is first introduced. Additionally, some people may prefer the analog watches because they are more familiar with them.

Overall, the future of timing in swimming looks promising. While there are some drawbacks to using digitaltiming, the benefits seem to outweigh them. It is likely thatDigitaltiming will eventually be adopted by competitive swimming as the standard method of timing races.

Scroll to Top