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Time Trials

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From time to time, we get asked if "time trials" are allowed at USMS sanctioned meets.

Most people would consider a "time trial" to be something like an independent swim conducted at a meet or independent from a meet based upon an individual swimmer's request. Using this definition, the answer is no. Such independent attempts to establish official times are not permitted at USMS sanctioned meets. However, one of the difficulties in answering this question clearly is that we do not define the term "time trial" in the USMS rule book and people may have different ideas of what constitutes a time trial.

The term "event" is defined in the USMS rule book, so we can talk about types of events, order of events, restrictions on entry limitations, and meet format. That will answer most of the questions regarding types of events that may be offered at USMS sanctioned meets. Many people may be surprised to discover that the rules actually provide a lot of flexibility to offer different and creative meet formats to serve the needs of masters swimmers, clubs, and LMSCs across the country.


That rules say thatů.


  • You must have a published order of events in the entry information.
  • Events must be offered to all ages and both genders at any meet in which they are offered.
  • A swimmer may swim the same individual event only one time during a meet.
  • Individual swimmers are subject to the entry limitations stated in the entry information and USMS rules.
  • You cannot change the order of events or add additional events after publishing the entry information unless certain conditions are met.
  • Closed competition is permitted, so a sanctioned meet does not have to be open to all members of USMS.
  • Not all events defined in article 102 must be offered. (These are the "conforming" events for which we compile Top 10 rankings and keep USMS records.) A meet host may offer a subset of those events and may even offer nonconforming events subject to approval of the sanctioning LMSC.


So, what about the following hypothetical situations?

Could a meet host run a sanctioned meet offering only one event and have the meet open to only members of one club? Yes, as long as that one event is offered to both genders and all age groups. There are many examples of meets that only consist of a 1650 Free, for example, but there is no rule that wouldn't allow it to be any other event.

Could a meet host run a sanctioned meet and offer the same event at multiple times (such as morning and afternoon, or Saturday and Sunday)? Yes, but an individual swimmer may only swim the event one time in a single meet and the results from all of the heats from the same event must be integrated and published as a single event in the results. (Compiling the results from all of the timed heats in a single event is the definition of "timed finals".)

Could a meet host run an order of events and then offer to repeat the same order of events for people who want to swim an event later in the session or next day? Yes if that is published in the entry information.

Could a meet host offer various creative event orders such as.....

  • The first three events will be all of the 200 yard non-freestyle stroke events. Swimmers may select only one event to swim and the events may be seeded together at the discretion of the referee. Yes, this type of order and meet format would be permitted.



  • The 100 Freestyle will be repeatedly offered between every other event in the meet. You can pick only one slot to swim this event. Yes, there is nothing in the rules to prohibit this type of format.



  • A "50 Choice" will be offered at the end of the meet for anyone who wants to swim another 50-yard event. No, because "choice" is not a defined stroke and distance in the USMS rules. But, you could say that all 50-yard stroke events will be offered again at the end of the meet for anyone that would like to swim another event. The restriction is that swimmers may not repeat an event that has already been swum.


Any of the above situations might look like a "time trial" to some people because they provide flexibility for swimmers to choose when they want to swim a specific event and could maybe even be constructed to accommodate specific swimmers who want a chance to swim a specific event at a time of their choosing.

The rules cover each of the above situations, but not necessarily as "time trials". The justification is the definition of an event and the rules that require publishing the order of events, conduct of events as "timed finals", and restrictions on how many times you can swim an event within a meet. As long as the sanctioning LMSC approves the meet format and entry information, these types of creative formats are permitted.

Could the host run a meet with a random order of events? Just show up, tell us what you want to swim, and we will run it for you? No, because you don't have a published order of events and the same events might not be offered to both genders and all age groups.

Can the host repeat random events at the end of the meet/session at the request of individual swimmers, maybe offering this option to swimmers who didn't want to swim back-to-back events or showed up late? No, because events cannot be added after the order of events has been published.

Can a swimmer ask to repeat an individual event in which he or she seeks a better time or wants to establish a record? No, because additional events may not be added and a swimmer may not repeat an event.

The preceding three situations may also look like "time trials" but they don't conform to the other rules regarding order of events and entry limitations, so that is why they are not permitted.

But, the rules actually allow for even more flexibility in short course yards (SCY) meets.

In USMS rules 102.6 and 102.10.1, we use the term "trials/finals" to describe meet formats that be used other than "timed finals". The term "trials/finals" is always used together, so this language should not be interpreted as meaning "time trials".

The language in 102.6 and 102.10.1 dates back several years and is intended to cover different ways of contesting individual events, which is permitted only in short course yards (SCY) meets. Normally, masters events are conducted as timed finals, but another common format (used in USA-Swimming championship meets) is to conduct preliminary heats and finals. The top swimmers from the preliminary heats advance to the finals and places are then determined from times swum in the finals. (Back in the day, the word "trial" was often used as a substitute for preliminaries or "prelims".)

If a meet is conducted with preliminary heats and finals, why doesn't it violate the restriction on repeating an event if a swimmer swims the same stroke and distance in the preliminaries and then again in the finals? And, why can't this alternate format be used to justify including time trials in SCY meets?

Because when preliminary heats are used, that process is considered part of the overall process of determining the results for a single event. Swimming the same stroke and distance in a preliminary heat and then in a final heat does not constitute repeating the same event. It is just a different way (contrasted to timed finals) of determining the overall places for a single event. This is not the same as a time trial, which is an independent attempt to establish another official time.

So, now to test your thinking, what about the following creative hypothetical formats for a SCY meet?

The entry information says: "After the conclusion of all of the events listed in the program, each swimmer will be provided an opportunity to re-swim any event. Events will be repeated in the same order, but may be combined at the discretion of the referee. The faster of the two times swum will be used to determine the final places for each event".

OK, that must be illegal, right? Because you cannot add events and a swimmer cannot repeat an event. But, in this hypothetical scenario, the repeat swim is actually part of the same event. It is not a time trial and it is not another added event. The format defines it as another way of contesting the event and that is allowed. And, just like the scenario of swimming the same stroke and distance in the preliminaries and finals, both swims may be used for official purposes.

What about this one? "The 100 IM will be open to the first 8 entries and swum in an elimination format. After each race, the slowest swimmer will be eliminated and the remaining swimmers will advance to the next round. The places will be determined by the order of elimination."

OK now, that really must be illegal, right? The winner would end up swimming the same event seven times! Again, because it defines a different way of contesting the event and determining the places, it is actually legal (albeit maybe insane). Swimming the same stroke and distance multiple times is not repeating the event in this scenario because each swim is part of the overall process for determining the rankings in a single event.

So, are time trials allowed? No, not using the most commonly accepted definition. But it is all in the way you define the order of events and the format for determining the results. For SCY meets, there is more flexibility than most people realize!

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