The history of individual medley swimming

Before butterfly was established as an individual stroke in 1952, individual medley races comprised of just three strokes and were typically swum over three or six lengths.

It was in a 150 yard individual medley race – known at the time as ‘three-stroke medley’ – that one of the first examples of butterfly arm technique was used as Henry Myers used an overarm recovery for the full length of his opening breaststroke leg.

A butterfly leg was added to individual medley races in the 1950s with races taking the form of butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke, then freestyle.

Unlike in individual freestyle races, you cannot swim butterfly, backstroke or breaststroke in the freestyle leg of an individual medley race.

At the 2015 World Championships in Kazan, American Ryan Lochte swam to his fourth consecutive 200m Individual Medley title using a backstroke dolphin kick off the wall for his freestyle leg before turning to surface on his front and swim front crawl for the rest of the length.

While officials did not disqualify Lochte at the Championships, world governing body FINA reacted by announcing the technique would be disqualified at future events as the American was technically starting the leg by swimming backstroke, irrespective of whether he was underneath or on the surface of the water.

The history of individual medley: The Olympic Games

The individual medley events at the Olympic Games are the only pool swimming events which have always been contested over the same distances for both women and men.

A 400m Individual Medley has been held at every Games since the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo while men’s and women’s 200m Individual Medley events were contested in 1968 and 1972, then at every Olympics since 1984.

Individual Medley Olympic distances. Used for the history of individual medley swimming page.

While Olympic individual medley races are only contested over 200m and 400m, a 100m Individual Medley race exists at short course events where competitors swim one 25m length of each stroke.

English Olympic individual medley medallists

Sharron Davies and Siobhan-Marie O’Connor are the only English swimmers to have landed Olympic medals for individual medley. having won silver as a 17-year old in the 400m Individual Medley at the Moscow 1980 Games.

Davies was a teenage prodigy, becoming a household name after being selected for her first Olympic Games as a 13-year old in 1976.

She became Commonwealth champion over both 200m and 400m Individual Medley in 1978 before claiming her Olympic medal behind East Germany’s Petra Schneider.

O’Connor also won her medal at her second Games, having made her Olympic debut as a 16-year old at London 2012.

Having won World Championship bronze in 2015, O’Connor went one better in Brazil, finishing just 0.3 seconds behind Hungary’s Katina Hosszu in the final.

  1. Moscow 1980 – Sharron Davies – 400m Individual Medley silver
  2. Rio 2016 – Siobhan-Marie O’Connor – 200m Individual Medley silver