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In Swimming, What Is an Individual Medley?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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An individual medley or IM is a swimming event in which a swimmer utilizes a series of different swimming strokes in a set order. Four strokes are seen in the individual medley, and each stroke occupies an equal proportion of the event. In the 400 meter IM, for example, the swimmer swims 100 meters with each swimming stroke. Recordholders in the 400 meter event complete it in well under five minutes. 200 meter events are also seen at the Olympics, and in other competitions there are 100 meter IM events.

In the individual medley, the swimmer starts with the butterfly stroke, moves into the backstroke, follows with the breaststroke, and finishes in freestyle. The swimmer must comply with a number of rules, including touching the wall at the end of each length, avoiding contact with the bottom of the pool, and staying in the correct lane. This competition tests swimming skills as well as endurance, especially in the 400 meter event where swimmers need endurance to be able to complete the lengths required in addition to blistering speed which will allow them to outswim competitors.

Swimmers regard the individual medley as one of the most challenging events in swimming, although it can also be very rewarding because it allows swimmers to show off their skills. Training for this event requires a lot of work as swimmers need to perfect each stroke and learn to turn quickly in the pool so that they do not lose time at the end of a length. Swim coaches also work with their athletes to develop endurance so that they will be able to successfully complete the event.

Some notable performers in the individual medley include Michael Phelps, Gary Hall, Stephanie Rice, Claudia Holb, and Ulrike Tauber. As with other world records in sports, the record time for these events is constantly being shaved down; there are a variety of reasons for this shift in swim times ranging from the use of high tech swimsuits to differences in training techniques.

The individual medley involves a single swimmer. By contrast, in the medley relay, swimmers trade off. This allows swim teams to pick the best swimmer for each type of stroke, showcasing the most talented swimmers and allowing more people to compete in the race. Medley relay events can be seen at the Olympics and in many smaller swimming competitions all over the world.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a The Health Board researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon346695 — On Aug 30, 2013

I found this info very helpful because I am a competitive swimmer in training for the Olympics (I just started to train) and I have to do a 400 meter individual medley in a few days. Once I am done training, I will compete in a 400 meter medley, but this information was helpful. Doing the medley is going to be very tiring.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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