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Decoded: The Individual Medley V. the Medley Relay

Entering the summer swim world is exciting and presents many opportunities for athletes and their parents alike. For swimmers, summer team is a social outlet that also helps develop athletic skills, goal-setting, and teamwork. For parents, summer swim is a great way to create a community and gain leadership experience via volunteer roles. Part of the fun is also in deciphering and then adopting swim specific lingo. Slowly adding acronyms and terms over time until you, too, are an expert. One such pair of new and potentially confusing terms are “Medley Relay” and “Individual Medley” (a.k.a. IM). Here we will discuss the difference between the two.

Individual Medley (IM) is the name of an individual race that comprises all four strokes. It is a 100 in summer swim (25 of each stroke) but, for year-round swimming, this race can be a 100, 200 (50 of each stroke), or even 400 (100 of each stroke and mainly seen in higher level swim competitions/college). The IM will always begin with butterfly, proceed to backstroke, then breaststroke, and end with freestyle. This means, in the case of the 100 IM, the race would proceed as follows: 25 butterfly, 25 backstroke, 25 breaststroke, and 25 freestyle. Given it uses each stroke, the IM lends itself to different strategies depending on a swimmer’s strengths and weaknesses stroke-wise.

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The Medley Relay is a team event involving four swimmers, with each swimmer swimming a different stroke for their leg of the race. It can also vary in length: the 100 (each swimmer does a 25) all the way up to 400 (each swimmer does a 100). With each athlete only swimming one stroke, each athlete typically races their prime (or best) stroke. Differing from the IM, Medley Relays follow a different stroke order: backstroke is the first leg, then breaststroke, third butterfly, and finally freestyle. This allows for a backstroke start (and prevents the backstroke leg from diving upside down off the block 😛).

Altogether, while the IM and Medley Relay each combine all the strokes, they are slightly different. It is important to keep these differences in mind to avoid a DQ (given the strokes must be swim in a specific order to achieve legality). The IM is always swum by one person while the Medley Relay combines four swimmers. Never fear, next time you find yourself at the pool and the terms “Individual Medley” and “Medley Relay” are being thrown around, you will know exactly what’s what!

Looking for clarification on some more summer swim terminology? Check out our blog on De-mystifying the Meet Day Heat Sheet!