Why SO MANY Swimming Events?


The Common Question

Every four years this question comes up: why are there so many swimming events? The question can be divided into three parts:

  • Are all those distances and relays necessary?
  • Is Phelps’ medal count overrated because it is easy to win an event once you’ve won a similar one?
  • If the point of swimming is to go from point A to point B as fast as possible, then why are there other strokes besides freestyle?


The Range of Swimming Events

We have the 50, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1500, and the 10K. If you look at how our bodies use energy and how the different muscle fibers are used, you’ll see that the 50, 100, and 200 are very different.

Medal Opportunities

That is why Lei was able to win four medals but wouldn’t stand a chance in a 50 or 100. Why so many distance events? It also comes down to the sport’s popularity and the ease of use of the venue.

Of course, the more popular a sport is, the more incentive there is to have more medals in the same venue. More days and more medals in swimming mean more tickets sold and more viewership on TV and social media.

Comparison with Team Sports

Team sports need a tournament and therefore more space, more time, and only earn a few medals. Those sports are easier to market outside of the Olympics, but they take too long for a competition like this. That’s why the finals of team sports are exciting, but not the whole tournament.

Track and field has the same distances as freestyle plus 5K and 42K, and this is where runners like to point out that they don’t have other ways of going slower from point A to point B. Except they do; they have competitive walking and obstacle running.

One of the most exciting things about sports is the team aspects. Individual sports manage to capture this by doing relays or team events. We have seven relays in total versus six land relays.

Is Phelps Overrated?

Here’s a list of athletes with the most medals in modern Olympics without Phelps. In more than 100 years of Olympics, swimmers hadn’t even made it to the top eight. Phelps’s genius is that he mastered the basics of the sport like no one else had and for a very long time. Could he have done it in any other sport? Maybe gymnastics, but he didn’t have the body type for that. He saw the opportunity and he took it.


I don’t even think that the medal count is the top thing that made him special. Personally, I wasn’t a big Phelps fan because of how dominant he was. I liked rooting for the underdogs, so I was disappointed almost always with him. But I became a fan because he single-handedly popularized the sport to the next level. And maybe thanks to him, we have even more swimming events today after his retirement.

Comparisons and Similarities with Other Sports

Track and Field

One of the most comparable sports to swimming is track and field. Just like swimming, track and field has the same kind of venues. 

  • Sprint Races
  • Middle-distance Races
  • Long-distance Races

Both sports also feature relay events, where teamwork and precise transitions are crucial for success.


Gymnastics and swimming both emphasize a variety of skills and techniques:

  • Individual Skill Events: Just as swimmers specialize in different strokes, gymnasts compete in events like the floor exercise, balance beam, and uneven bars. Each event requires unique skills and training.
  • Team Competitions: Both sports have team events that highlight the collective strength and coordination of the athletes. In swimming, relays are a perfect example, while gymnastics features team competitions where every routine contributes to the final score.


Cycling, particularly in track cycling events, shares similarities with swimming:

  • Sprint Events: Track cycling’s sprint races are comparable to swimming sprints, emphasizing speed and explosive power.
  • Endurance Events: The points race and individual pursuit in track cycling are similar to middle-distance and long-distance swimming events, requiring strategic pacing and endurance.
  • Team Events: Cycling’s team pursuit parallels swimming’s relay events, where team coordination and strategy are vital.


The Historical Context

The inclusion of multiple events in swimming has historical roots. As swimming evolved as a competitive sport, different strokes were developed and standardized, leading to the creation of distinct events. This evolution has been influenced by changes in technique, training methods, and the desire to push the boundaries of human performance. 

So, the next time you watch a swimming competition, remember that each event is a testament to the sport’s rich history and the incredible versatility of its athletes. Whether it’s a sprint, a medley, or a relay, every race showcases the dedication and talent of swimmers around the world.


By the way, don’t forget to share this knowledge to others..

Thank you!