If Swimming Added New Events to the Olympic Lineup, What Could They Be?

Photo Courtesy: Becca Wyant

If Swimming Added New Events to the Olympic Lineup, What Could They Be?

The women’s 1500 freestyle, men’s 800 free and the mixed medley relay recently made their debuts at the Olympic Games in Tokyo, bringing the total number of events in the pool to 35. Previously, the last time an event was added to the Olympic schedule was in 1996 when the women’s 4×200 freestyle relay made its debut in Atlanta. Eight years before that, the men’s and women’s 50 free were contested for the first time in Seoul.

If given the option, what would be next?

There’s a plethora of choices that could be considered. FINA introduced the mixed freestyle relay at the 2015 World Championships, with the United States winning all three gold medals thus far in that event. But the mixed medley relay got the nod for Tokyo, presumably because it is more unpredictable and coaches can play around with strategy more, rather than swim two men in the front and two women in the back like every finalist at the last two World Championships.

Obviously, additional events at the Olympic Games are unlikely to happen. The program is already full. But the mind can always wander, and these types of exercises can be enjoyable. So, let’s dive into the options of what events could be an interesting addition to the Olympic lineup:

4×200 IM and/or Medley Relay

We already have the 4×100 medley, and the 4×200 free, so what is preventing us from a 4×200 medley relay? Or perhaps even a 4×200 IM relay with four 200 IMers. It would be a great way to encourage swimmers to take on the IM events with potential relay spots on the line, as well as more swimmers to train for the 200 back, breast and fly for the same reason.

You have to be a special kind of tough to train for a 200 of any stroke. Some great IMers of the past like Tamas DarnyiAlex Baumann and Yana Klochkova had limited potential to be on relays unless they put together a strong 200 free. Adding a relay of four 200 IMers or one of each stroke would definitely encourage athletes to take on those events, instead of having to choose between a 200 IM focus or a 200 free focus.

The only issue would be the event would be over 8:00, and although hardcore swimming fans would still watch the event, it would be difficult to try to attract non-swimming fans to join the sport with such a long event on the program. Not to mention, it is a common occurrence for swimmers to over-swim the first 50 in a 200 free on a relay, and it would cause some extreme pain to the swimmer if the same tactic was brought to a 200 breast or 200 fly. It would cause swimmers and coaches to re-think the race strategy for a 200 stroke, but it would definitely shake things up if it was an official event.

50m Underwater Kick

This already is an event – sort of. “Fin swimming” has been a prominent sport in Europe for some time, where the swimmers kick solely with monofins and use snorkels to breathe without breaking the kick rate. It is its own niche event, so the famous swimmers such as Florent Manaudou and Sarah Sjostrom don’t participate in it, but it would be interesting to see how they would stack up against the world’s best fin swimmers. Adding a kick event to the Olympics or even a more relaxed meet like the ISL would definitely stir up fan intrigue. The above video from the 2015 European Games has 155,000 views, while this video of the men’s 100m surface final at the same meet has over 2 million views.

Fin swimming is quirky, it’s different, and it is a new way to view the sport of swimming.

It’s hard to really determine who would have been a great fin kicker in the past, but sprinters Matt BiondiAlexander Popov and Michael Klim were famous for their kicking skills – either underwater or on top, and had this event been around for the last 30 years, they could have been some of the greats in this unofficial event. On the women’s side, Libby TrickettNatalie Coughlin and Misty Hyman have been famous for their kick, and definitely would have been past greats in this event.

Kicking is a basic skill mastered at the age group level, so adding it to the professional event lineup would make it that much more intriguing, and it would definitely get swimming fans talking: Who is the best kicker in the world?

Reverse IM

Again, this has already been experimented with at professional meets. USA Swimming implemented the “mystery medley” event at the 2018 TYR Pro Swim Series where swimmers pulled stroke orders out of a hat before they lined up behind the blocks. It definitely sparked fan interest – the above video from the Austin Pro Series has 182,000 views, while the women’s race had 141,000.

But the mystery IM event only made an appearance two other times – in Mesa and Santa Clara. Fan interest quickly died off. The YouTube views for the Mesa race didn’t crack 4,000 and the Santa Clara races combined for just under 14,000. The event has not been raced at a Pro Series since, but it was definitely a nice conversation starter whether traditionalists in the sport like it or not.

800 IM

IMers everywhere are shaking their heads and hoping and praying FINA executives are not considering this event at the next World Championships. “Isn’t the 400 IM long enough?” Perhaps that is correct, but the 800 IM has been thrown around amongst coaches for quite some time now.

“If there was an 800 IM, Maddy (Crippen) would be the best in the world,” Germantown’s Dick Shoulberg said before the 2000 Olympic Games where Crippen finished sixth in the 400 IM final.

800 IMs are generally swum as workout sets to test a swimmer’s endurance and get them ready for the monstrosity that is the 400 IM. If this event had been contested in the past, some historic names like Tom DolanKatinka Hosszu and Tamas Darnyi come to mind as potential dominators.

50 Strokes

The 50 back, breast and fly have been official events at the World Championships since 2001, and have been fan favorites for their unpredictability and speed. But many swimming traditionalists have dismissed the proposed addition of the 50 strokes to the Olympic lineup, with many believing that it doesn’t take a large amount of training to be world class at the event.

Adding 50 strokes also poses the question of adding a 4×50 relay, which has made its way to the World & European Short Course Championships over the years. Those sprint relays have been fan favorites at the NCAA level in the United States because of how quick they go by and how exciting they can be when coming down to the final leg. They would be particularly tricky in long course since two swimmers would have to be at each end, eliminating that team feel that relays create.


  1. Leslie Cichocki

    50 back, 50 breast and 50 fly.

    Maybe 400 backstroke and 400 breaststroke.

    • Karyn Errico Maki

      Mark Tierney holy man! 800IM, no thanks. I’d prefer swimming the 400 free ???

    • avatar
      Coach Winner

      I am all for the 800IM and 400 strokes. As an avid swimmer in the 200 and up events… especially 400IM and 200 Butterfly… I’m all for those events!!! #distancerevolution

  2. John Ian Bobbitt

    “Foot Race” -six swimmers per lane. Three of one team, three of another. Your foot gets tagged, you’re out. If a member of YOUR team tags two opposing swimmers, you get one swimmer back.

    Keep going until the opposing team’s 3 are all tagged out…. or until somebody drowns.

  3. Ken Holland

    Love to see the divers sprint to the other end ?

    • Derek Toomey

      Will Manion how about just a start? Like reaction off the blocks. That’s my race

  4. Brad Schmied

    Mixed free and medley relays and 50s of each stroke

  5. avatar

    All the 50s + 4x50m medley and freestyle relays, mixed and single gender

  6. Elaine Fitchie

    Petra Hoffmann Annika Hoffmann – do you think we should suggest the Flensburg Fun Race??

  7. avatar
    Jayden Ellis

    Get rid of the distance events added this Olympics, the same people did the distance double in both genders, meaning two medal events are practically the same race

  8. avatar
    Kevin Novotny

    Underwater distance or distance off the blocks I used to do both to test leg strength and lung capacity

  9. avatar
    Mike glasch

    100 corkscrew, one stroke freestyle, rotate, one stroke backstroke, rotate, etc.

  10. avatar
    Guy Miller

    Bring back the Plunge for Distance (see 1904 Olympics).

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