001.005 Strokes and Events

USA-S competition admits five types of individual events: freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke, butterfly, and individual medley (IM). Freestyle is the least restrictive; while most athletes swim freestyle events using front crawl, nearly any swimming style is permitted. Freestyle events are also offered for the greatest age range and in the greatest variety of distances, so it is not surprising that most age group swims are in freestyle events.

Nearly all (94%) athletes will compete in at least one freestyle event per year.  The fewest athletes compete in butterfly (61%) and IM (63%).


An event combines one of the five competitive event types with a distance. Typically shorter events are offered and swum more frequently than longer ones.  The only exceptions to this rule are the 50 Back, 50 Breast, 50 Fly, and 100 IM, which are not recognized by USA-S for athletes older than 12 years. Swims of those events by older athletes were removed from our data when we excluded non-recognized events.  The 50 Free is recognized for athletes of all ages, and is the most commonly swum event in USA-S.

The least commonly swum events are the distance freestyle events (Fr800/Fr1000 and Fr1500/Fr1650).  The 1500/1650 Freestyle accounts a mere 0.6% of the swims. This is partly due to the difficulty of the event, and partly to its rarity. The 1650 Freestyle is seldom offered, in large part due to its poor economics (modest entry fee divided by large pool time).  Few choose to swim it, in part because its difficulty may preclude an athlete from achieving their best performances in other events of the same meet due to insufficient recovery time.

Breaking down this data by age group shows that athletes in a given age group are more likely to swim shorter recognized events for their age group.  This plot shows the likelihood that an athlete in a given age group will swim the given recognized event. We combine the 13-14 and 15-18 age groups because they compete in the same recognized events.

Transposing the data shows that longer events are more likely to be swum by older athletes.  This plot shows the likelihood that a swim of a given event will be performed by an athlete in a given age group.

Event Frequency.

The following chart plots the likelihood that a SCY meet will offer a given event.  It does not consider the effect of time standards or age limits on the ease of entering an event.  As expected, the 50 yard freestyle (“Fr50”) is the most commonly offered SCY event, while the distance freestyle events (Fr1000 and Fr1650) are the least commonly offered SCY events.  This chart has a similar shape to the “Percentage Swims by Event” chart above, with shorter, recognized events being offered more frequently. The largest disparity between the two charts is for the distance freestyle events, which are offered significantly more often than they are swum.

As expected, events recognized for all age groups, such as the 50 free and the 100 back/breast/fly, are offered the most frequently.

The likelihood that a LCM meet will offer a given event has a similar shape, as shown in the next plot.  LCM meets are more than twice as likely to offer distance freestyle events than SCY meets. Bear in mind that there are more than twice as many SCY meets as LCM meets, so the number of opportunities to swim distance freestyle may be similar in both seasons.