Why do they whistle during Olympic swimming? The power of whistling and how it impacts athletes

Joshua Rogers July 28, 2021
Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

The Olympic swimming is well underway in Tokyo. However, things are a little different this year, as the venues are absent of spectators due to the pandemic. Without the noise of fans, people around the world are picking up on some very interesting sounds ringing around the aquatic centre in Tokyo. Why do they whistle during Olympic swimming? Let’s find out.

The impact of no spectators on swimming at the Tokyo Games

Swimming is one of the most popular Olympic events, with iconic figures like Mark Spitz, Michael Phelps, and Ian Thorpe popularising the sport to what it is today.

In Tokyo, it’ swimmers like Caeleb Dressel and Katie Ledecky who have become household names.

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During the Tokyo Games, swimming takes place at Tokyo’s Aquatics Centre. However, things are noticeably different, as although the venue seats 15,000 people, there are no spectators due to covid.

On top of this, certain networks like NBC have refused to add additional crowd noise over the top of its coverage. This means fans can hear almost everything going on in the venue, including shouts, cries, and even whistles.

Photo by Xavier Laine/Getty Images

Why do they whistle during Olympic swimming?

There are a few different kinds of whistles during the Olympics, and it’s important to separate them.

The most obvious whistle comes at the start of a race, which indicates to the swimmers, timers, and judges that a race is about to begin.

Once the whistle is sounded, the starter will tell swimmers to step up onto the blocks and continue with the starting procedure.

Usually, it would also notify spectators to keep quiet.

However, during these Games, people are most curious about the whistles coming from the stands that can be heard throughout the race.

This is actually how coaches communicate with their swimmers, telling them to swim faster or slow down, or to push harder.

It often helps swimmers stay on pace and regulate their speeds to the time of the whistles.

It’s simply more noticeable during these Olympics because the aquatics centre is relatively empty.

Photo by Sergei Bobylev\TASS via Getty Images

Variations in whistling and the power of using them

By listening to timed, regular whistles, swimmers have a better chance of knowing where they stand in the race and what to do.

However, there are many different variations of whistles.

The whistles can vary from loud and shrill, to stuttered or more rhythmic. Some coaches often combine the whistles with hand movements and gestures which helps communication with their swimmers.

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These patterns are often well drilled and rehearsed regularly, so even though they’re under water, swimmers are remarkably aware of what’s being communicated.

Whistles therefore provide encouragement, motivation, and even strategy, making them a powerful tool for coaches to utilise.

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Joshua is a senior sports writer with over four years' experience in online writing. He graduated with a BA in Ancient History from The University of Manchester before receiving an MA in Sports Journalism from The University of Central Lancashire. He became a trending writer for a leading social publisher and later spent time covering the 2018 World Cup for The Mirror Online. He then moved to a social marketing agency where he acted as website editor. His specialties on The Focus include F1, tennis, NBA, NFL and combat sports.