The Difference Between Olympic and College Swimming


When you think about your future in swimming there are big decisions to make. In order to make the right choices, you first need to know what your options are and what they require. One of the notions you need to differentiate is Olympic and college swimming.

college swimming photo

Photo by mmmavocado

What can confuse many is when you see the same swimmer in a college swimming team of one country and an Olympic team of another country. Since they do both you might think that there might be no difference at all. So what differentiates Olympic and college swimming?

Swimming Pool Length

The first big difference is in the pool length. Olympic swimming is more demanding due to longer swimming requirements.

In the USA University system, swimming is almost always done in short-course yards (SCY). The college swimming pool is 25 yards long. On the other hand, Olympic swimming is held in long-course (LCM) which means that the pools are 50 meters long. This is more than double compared to the normal college swimming pool.

The length does demand better preparedness but the brains behind the Olympics do their best to help out the swimmers. Before the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics, the Olympic swimming pool had 8 lanes. The new 10-lane swimming pool debuted in that year. The reason why they increased the lane count is to give the swimmers a “buffer lane”. This helps them to absorb waves generated by the swimmers’ movements which leads to less hydrodynamic drag for the swimmers. The new pool hosted 25 broken world records.

Even though SCM pools aren’t very common in the USA the world championships do have both LCM pools of 50 meters and SCM pools of 25 meters.

For example, The Olympic Games, FINA World Aquatics Championships, and SEA Games take place in 50-meter pools. However, the FINA World Swimming Championships or “Short Course Worlds” are taking place in 25-meter pools. FINA (Fédération Internationale de Natation) is the International Federation recognized by the International Olympic Committee for administering international competition in aquatics.

What needs to be emphasized is the difference between yards. If you are used to 25 yard long pools, transferring to a 50-meter pool would be a huge challenge. It would be like you need to adjust from a 25-yard pool to about 55-yard pool (50 meters is 54.6807 yards to be exact).

The physical possibilities of swimmers are what singles out those who are ready for Olympic swimming and those who should focus on the college swimming team. If you have the ambition to make it to the Olympic swimming team, you should keep this in mind from the very start.

The Turns

The next aspect you need to consider is the turns. High school and college swimmers are used to at least one turn. That’s not the case with Olympic swimming. Let’ overview the swimming in college and at the Olympics:

  • College swimming – 25-yard short course yard pool; a 50 – a start, a turn, and a finish
  • Olympic swimming – 50-meter long course pool; a 50 – a start and a finish

You can notice that there is no turn in Olympic swimming.

Compared to swimming in the middle of the pool, swimmers achieve a higher speed. The speed is higher at the start and as well as when swimmers come off the walls after a turn.

The pools of 25 yards or 25 meters have more turns and the turns help the swimmers to gain higher average speed. The higher average speed that is achieved with more turn for the same distance results in faster swimming.

Swimmers can have better results in terms of speed in college swimming than in Olympic swimming due to lack of turns in the 50-meter long course pool.

Take as an example Fred Bousquet a freestyle and butterfly swimmer from France and his results from 2004. For SCM his result was 21.10 and for LCM it was 2.36 m/sec. Here you have the difference of 0.26 seconds in speed.

SCM pools are faster than LCM pools. This is another crucial aspect that can help many swimmers decide on whether they should start dreaming about the Olympics.

Some swimmers show better results in short course meter pool and others in long course meter pool. It all depends on what style suits you better. Swimmers whose drive is the speed in swimming might feel better if they stick to college swimming. I know, because I was one of those,” shared Diana Adjadj, a content editor at Studyker and Subjecto and former professional swimmer.

Can Swimmers Do Both?

The answer is yes. Swimmers can simultaneously be on a college swimming team and the Olympic team.

The strokes are the same for both. Therefore, you have the following possibilities:

  • Freestyle
  • Backstroke
  • Butterfly
  • Breaststroke
  • Individual medley

If you reach the standards and have the capacity for LCM you can set a goal to become a part of your country’s Olympic team. In the USA, many of the swimmers in college will have a chance to swim for a spot on the USA Olympic Swimming Team.

What also shouldn’t surprise you if a swimmer is on a college swim team in one country and Olympic swim team of another country. Swimmers of dual-nationality or foreign swimmers can be for example on US University teams but at the same time swim for the Olympic team of their home country.

Final Thoughts

The difference between college swimming and Olympic swimming is clear. These differences can help you make up your mind about where you want to direct your swimming career.

Not being a part of the Olympics doesn’t mean that you are not good enough. It means that you prefer a different style, a style you can experience in the college swimming team. Despite the competitive spirit that all swimmers have (you do too, admit it) you need to remember that the most important goal is that you do what you love and what feels like the best choice for you.

Kristin Savage nourishes, sparks and empowers using the magic of a word. Along with pursuing her degree in Creative Writing, Kristin was gaining experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in marketing strategy for publishers and authors. Besides working as a freelance writer at TopEssayWriting she also does some editing work at WriteScout and ClassyEssay. In her free time, Kristin likes to swim and travel.

About Author

Production engineer and certified swim coach. Full-time IT consultant, spare-time swimming aficionado. 2 sons, 2 daughters and a wife. President of the Faroe Islands Swimming Association. Likes to run :-)

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