What is the Hardest Event in Swimming? The Choice Isn’t Easy

Ryan Lochte Tired

What is the Hardest Event in Swimming?

By Elise Devlin

There’s nothing worse than getting a wide eyed, worrisome expression from your friend after you answered their question, “So, what event do you have next?” We’ve all been there. Lurking somewhere in your meet lineup is only the worst event to exist. But which event is that? Maybe the 400 IM, with its strict demand of endurance in every stroke, all packed into one race. Or is it the 200 cry…I mean fly? C’mon, who really thinks eight whole laps of butterfly is a stroll in the park anyway? And then of course there is the 1500 freestyle. There is really just no escape in that one.  

Whether you are biased due to the fact that you’re a regular participant in one of these events, or you are the opposite and can’t imagine yourself even getting through one of these events, everyone has an opinion on the controversial question of, “what is the most difficult race in swimming”.  

After surveying my swim team at Towson University, it was clear everyone had different opinions on which event was the hardest. With the winner of this survey being the 400 IM, it could be different for another swim team. However, these six events were the most voted on by my team, and each remain strong contenders for which event in the sport of swimming is the most difficult.

200 Freestyle

So do you sprint this whole race and try not to die? Do you pace the whole thing and hope for the best? The answer is both. This event can be considered one of the most difficult because of the race strategy that comes with it. It’s pretty much hanging out on the border of sprint and mid-distance, leaving you with no choice but to rely on your endurance to hold a fast pace for the entire race. All about that third 50. 

michael-phelps-

Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

200 Butterfly

One impulsive, “I’m going to pick it up now so I can get ahead,” can ruin you in this event. If you take it out too fast, you’ll never survive the second half of the race, or you will, but it just won’t be pretty to watch. But if you take it out too slow, you could have too hard of a time catching back up the whole eight laps. Meanwhile, the more you get tired doing this stroke, the harder it is to maintain good technique. It definitely takes a different breed of person to proudly call this event their race of choice.  

400 IM

If you aren’t proficient in each of the four strokes, you can kiss this race goodbye. This is right up there in the rankings for being the hardest event in swimming because of its combination of every stroke, the endurance you must have to swim it, and the perfect strategy you must stick to. Also, you are forced to give it your all in every single portion of the race, due to the fact that everyone else’s strategy is different than yours, depending on their strongest and weakest stroke. For all you know, your opponent could be an amazing breaststroker and cruise right past you when you least expect it.  

1500 Freestyle

katie-ledecky-400-free-prelims-2019-world-championships-3

Photo Courtesy: Becca Wyant

It still confuses me how some people voluntarily declare themselves distance swimmers, but we really couldn’t get by without them.  Swimming for 15+ minutes while trying to keep a steady pace and stay with your competition is not in the slightest bit easy. Small mistakes will kill you in this race by adding up and creating gained time, which is the last thing you want after finishing this long of a race and giving it your all. This is considered by many to be one of the hardest races in the sport because of the amount of time you must stay mentally strong, and pace yourself correctly for 15 minutes or more.

200 Backstroke

Enjoy the feeling in your legs as much as you can before you swim this race, because I can promise you it won’t be there after.  Underwaters and a powerful, consistent kick are key to staying strong in this race. It’s always important to have a plan of attack, so that your legs don’t give out on you too early. Once this happens, the outcome of your 200 back won’t exactly be promising.  

200 Breaststroke

The difference in pace for a 200 breaststroke versus a 100 breaststroke can be huge. It can be challenging when trying to find that perfect rhythm to carry you through this race, while also maintaining a steady yet fast pace throughout the entire eight laps. But don’t let your technique go or else this event can go downhill from there on.

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1 year ago

200-fly

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1 year ago
Reply to  Peter Hocking

Peter Hocking Yup!

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1 year ago

200m Butterfly (LCM)
*It always hurts at some point!

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1 year ago

Donald P. Spellman totally agree. Used to cry when I swam it ?

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sydney j.
11 months ago

that’s great cause i’m swimming that tomorrow

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JD Abercrombie
2 months ago

2 fly was my race. If you are in the groove, it doesn’t hurt. If it does hurt, something is wrong.

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Jack
26 days ago
Reply to  JD Abercrombie

It may hurt it may not but it takes it all out of you

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1 year ago

400 IM

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IM

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1 year ago

1800 free, 400IM, 200 fly

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1 year ago
Reply to  Jim Bowser

Jim Bowser
You know how to count?

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Adrian brown
1 year ago
Reply to  Lyle Campbell

200 fly but I do enjoy it

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1 year ago
Reply to  Jim Bowser

Yup, and multiply when needed?

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Rob
1 year ago
Reply to  Jim Bowser

Especially when everyone else is doing 1500 ?

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JD Abercrombie
2 months ago
Reply to  Jim Bowser

Is the 1800 a new event?

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1 year ago

400 IM

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Fly

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Mark
10 months ago

1500 meter Fly –
Im not doing it again!

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Jack
26 days ago
Reply to  Mark

Most amazing man alive right here, forgot this was even a thing

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1 year ago

Personally, I would rather swim a 1650 than a 400 IM.

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1 year ago

200 fly and 400 IM

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1 year ago

Evelina Vetskova Long Course 2 Fly and 4 IM

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1 year ago

Evelina Vetskova
I agree ?

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Jack Valentine
2 months ago

Those are my two favorite events

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1 year ago

It would have to be 200 Fly

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1 year ago

Aoife Ní Deffo the “200 cry” ???

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1 year ago

400m IM (Long Course) ?‍♀️

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1 year ago

The mile. No question.

The 400 IM is also brutal, as is the 200 free.

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1 year ago

400IM no doubt

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1 year ago

At NJ states 200fly is 2races from 4IM… at finals u have 20 / 25 minutes recovery

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1 year ago

200 Fly LCM

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1 year ago

400 IM or 200 fly

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1 year ago

All those pool bound answers are cute. Try the 10k or 25k sometime out in the ocean. ?

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1 year ago

Phelps said 200back was the hardest. That and the lung-busting 2brst need more love here. As for the 1500, it sucks, but is it really the hardest??

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1 year ago
Reply to  Jeff Strahota

Jeff Strahota I think other events will whip you more in the moment but the tail on a 1650/1500 is far longer.

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1 year ago
Reply to  Jeff Strahota

Jeff Strahota I say long course 200 back. That last 50 is so painful on the legs and you have no idea how close you are to finishing because you can’t see the wall.

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1 year ago
Reply to  Jeff Strahota

Jeff Strahota the 1500 because you have to pace yourself correctly and concentrate on keeping that pace. Probably not as body breaking as the 400IM & 200Fl though.

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Penny Lee Dean
11 months ago
Reply to  Rich Davis

I don’t think anyone has swum the 1500 properly in decades. I think has to be thought of as a sprint to be swum properly but listen when I swam and broke the English Channel record mentally I thought of that as a 200 meter race in the Olympics. I used a four beat kick four 7 hours and forty minutes. I trained 30 miles a day plus an hour and a half mentally a day. Anything can be done when you train your whole body and mind

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1 year ago
Reply to  Jeff Strahota

Jeff Strahota when and where Phelps said that ?

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1 year ago

400 m IM. 200 m back is pretty bad too!

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1 year ago

No debate. 400 IM. Eve. Pros Cringe. 20 fly close second

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1 year ago

2 Fly, 4 IM.

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1 year ago

200M fly LCM

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1 year ago

200 fly or 400im

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1 year ago

200 Fly

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1 year ago
Reply to  Jen McGoldrick

Jen McGoldrick easy.

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1 year ago
Reply to  Jen McGoldrick

Disagree

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1 year ago

400 IM

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1 year ago

200 Back the last turn oxygen debt

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1 year ago

400 IM sin duda… y casi en paralelo el 200 Back…Si no mueren tus piernas, muere tu oxigeno y viceversa…

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1 year ago

The one you have not conditioned to compete

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1 year ago

200 fly ,400 IM,then 1650!!!

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1 year ago

400 IM or 200 Fly. ( both long course )

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1 year ago

400 IM

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1 year ago

200 Breast

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1 year ago

English Channel

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1 year ago

400IM and 200 fly

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1 year ago

400 IM

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1 year ago

400 IM LC, followed by 2 BR short course. The underwaters are misery.

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1 year ago

Any work out that starts at 5 am. But I’d go with John Dussliere ‘s answer

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1 year ago

200m fly for me.

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200m Butterfly
nd 400m IM

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1 year ago

400 IM

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Coach Bob
1 year ago

It’s like saying the 3000 steeple Chase is harder than the Marathon.
Or saying that a five rounds UFC fight is more grueling than a twelve round boxing match up.
The distance freestyle events are the toughest.
The goat MP tried the 400 free at Worlds in his prime in 2005 and did not make the finals. He never tried it again. That should say something about the mid and long distance events.

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1 year ago
Reply to  Coach Bob

Fair points, Coach Bob, though fair to note too that 2005 did not represent Phelps at the peak of his power… it was a down season of recuperation and reset: he bypassed the 200 ‘fly at world titles and tried some new stuff… his 3:50 in heats left him well shy, 18th… two places ahead of a certain Paul Biedermann… seasons come, seasons go…
In general I think the answer to this question is: events are hardest when they’re not yours, Phelps 400 free perhaps (though, lest we forget, he clocked 3:46.73 as an 18-year-old in 2003, third ranked in the world that year behind Mssrs Thorpe and Hackett) but, you know, stuff like 1500m free for Simone Manuel (really tough) – or 100 free for Lotte Friis (tough in race conditions mentally because she, among thousands of others, would not thrive); 200 breaststroke for Ada Kok; 200 ‘fly for Adam Peaty and 400IM for Anthony Ervin… that’s tough 🙂
And then there’s this: the hardest event can be the one you best excel in – on the day it comes down, the day it doesn’t work, the day that was not what it might and could have been for whatever reason…
“The hardest swim event?” is a fun question but also very shallow, the richness to be found in the depths of beautiful complexity and the experience of the individual, not the herd 🙂

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1 year ago

You can swim a relaxed mile. You can swim a relaxed anything for that matter and it won’t be that bad. A 200 Fly hurts whether you are trying to keep it totally relaxed or you are busting out. The last 10 strokes always hurt.

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1 year ago

Dave Toffy I’m gonna say the 200 fr. that’s not a middle distance event anymore. It’s a full blown sprint. The aerobic conditioning and mental strength needed to hit that 3rd 50 with everything you got knowing you’re about to face the worst pain on the final lap is straight brutality.

Change my mind.

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1 year ago
Reply to  Spencer Rausch

Spencer Rausch to compare 200 free and 200 fly is …well…just don’t do it…

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Michelle L
10 months ago
Reply to  Zlatko Boko

My 200 fly/back/400IMer former college swimmer says hands down the 200 & 400 LCM free events are he toughest events hands down because they are sprints in disguise. Mind you – this is a guy who loves to swim the 200 fly:)

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1 year ago
Reply to  Spencer Rausch

Spencer Rausch agree it’s the 200 free:)

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1 year ago

200back if done right ?

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1 year ago

Open Water 25km, 1500m, 200 Fly, 200 Breast and 400 IM

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1 year ago

200 back or fly is a painful experience

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1 year ago

Kyle William Brod the 2 BK is aweful

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1 year ago

Vic Stawik I agree. There is something beautiful about the 200 fly but the 200 back is long and a bit boring

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1 year ago

400 IM hands down!

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1 year ago

They’re all hard if you want to be the best.

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1 year ago

last turn to the wall during an out of shape 200 anything race.

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