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In competitive swimming, "freestyle" events are those which have very few limitations in the swimming style, and the swimmer is allowed to choose whatever style they are fastest in. However, I have only ever seen freestyle swimmers use the "front crawl" technique.

Given that the front crawl is so dominant, was there ever a time in history when there were actually a range of styles used in freestyle events? Or have freestyle events always been dominated by front crawl?

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    Back in the 60's when I was 10 years old and a new age group swimmer, our team sponsored a meet that drew a large attendance from Los Angeles. In the 100m Freestyle, one of the best swimmers at the meet swam his first 25m of the event Butterfly. Although he had the fastest time, he was disqualified. The event was actually 100m Crawl. That was the last time I ever saw a Crawl event in a meet and it was the last time I ever saw anyone swim anything but Crawl in a Freestyle event. – PJNoes Dec 13 '16 at 23:25
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As you know, no swimming style can be faster than the front crawl and it would be very foolish to use other strokes in a freestyle event.

According to the linked Wikipedia article on front crawl:

The "front crawl" style has been in use since ancient times. There is an Egyptian bas relief piece dating to 2000 BCE showing it in use.

In the Western world, the stroke which would later be refined into the modern front crawl was first seen in a swimming race held in 1844 in London, where it was swum by Northern Native Americans.

The front crawl had been used in a swimming competition 52 years before the first Summer Olympics were held and we can safely assume that people at that time knew it was the fastest swimming stroke and all freestyle events have always been dominated by the front crawl.

  • A few years ago at a masters meet, my brother missed his call for the 100y fly (and thus DNSed). He thought he was in pretty good shape and wanted a time, so he swam fly in the 100y free. He didn't place as well as he could have - his fly is good but not that good - but he got a time, even if it wasn't officially recorded as fly. So that's one relatively sane reason to swim another stroke in a freestyle event. – pjmorse Jun 26 '17 at 15:15

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