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Inaugural running of the Mystery Medley at Surrey Champs

Following the appearance of ‘The Mystery Medley’ in the 2018 Pro Swim Series, Swim England Masters Rep Jim Boucher was encouraged by his regulars to consider adding this fun event to the already busy schedule for this year’s Surrey Masters Championships.

The Mystery Medley has proven popular with the elite swimmers so what would the Masters make of it?

For those not familiar with it, the Mystery Medley sees the swimmers draw their stroke order just before they take to the starting blocks.

Masters mathematicians would immediately recognise there are 24 possible permutations (different orders to swim) a medley including the ‘official’ one – fly, back, breast and free.

This reduces to 18 if we eliminate any that start on backstroke. The interest to the spectators is watching the lead changing dramatically as, for example, a swimmer starting breaststroke is initially left far behind by the quicker strokes, but comes back later in the race.

For the swimmers, and particularly for older Masters, there is also the challenge of remembering what the last length should be!

In order not to upset the closely contested club and individual points competitions the event was offered as an alternative to the ‘normal’ IM.

Mystery Medley Rules

It was intended as a fun event but it would also score points and medals just like the others, so order was required. This is how Jim explained it to the swimmers in his event briefing notes:

  • You will draw a sheet, when you marshall behind your block, that gives your order of swimming. This is then given to your timekeeper who will be in charge of issuing a DQ if you swim the wrong stroke.
  • There will be no stroke orders starting on backstroke.
  • DQ for infractions for the strokes – judges will judge whatever stroke the swimmer is actually swimming whether it is the correct one or not.
  • All fly and breaststroke touches should be with two hands simultaneously.
  • The backstroke leg must be finished on the back whenever it is swum.
  • So long as the touch is correct they can then turn however which way they choose! Hence one can tumble turn from free on to the next leg.

On the Day

Eight men and 24 (three full heats) women took on the Mystery Medley challenge.

Jim and announcer Clare Uttley oversaw the drawing of stroke order by each swimmer with Clare announcing the sequences to the cheers and oohs of the crowd.

We had one swimmer who forgot the sequence and duly received her DQ, but everyone else made it, with the last heat of the ladies seeing European Record holder Michelle Ware’s last fly leg storm past a couple of Surrey University breaststrokers who were out in front at the last turn.

Jim concluded: “The audience interest was fantastic, the swimmers loved it, and I’m sure we will do it again.”