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Olympic Pool Lane Assignments In Track

Learn the competition format for the Olympic sport of swimming at the 2016 Rio Games.

From prelims to final
Each event starts with a preliminary round of heats in the morning (often referred to as "prelims"). In events 200m and shorter, the 16 fastest swimmers from prelims advance to the semifinals, which are held during the evening session that day. The eight fastest swimmers from the two semifinal heats advance to the final, held the following evening. In the event of a tie for 16th place in prelims or for eighth in the semifinals, tied competitors swim an additional head-to-head race to determine who advances (a "swim off"). In events 400m and longer (including relays), the eight fastest swimmers (or teams) from prelims advance directly to the final. Finals are held the evening after prelims, but for the women's 800m freestyle and the men's 1500m freestyle, the finals are conducted during the following day's evening session. In the event that swimmers (or teams) tie for eighth place in prelims, there is a swim-off to determine which swimmer or team advances to the final.

Lane assignments
Swimmers and relay teams are seeded according to times from the previous round so that the fastest swimmers/teams are in the central lanes of the pool, and the slowest are in the outer ones.


  • Lane 4: fastest swimmer or relay team
  • Lane 5: second-fastest
  • Lane 3: third-fastest
  • Lane 6: fourth-fastest
  • Lane 2: fifth-fastest
  • Lane 7: sixth-fastest
  • Lane 1: seventh-fastest
  • Lane 8: eighth-fastest

Being in the middle of the pool is advantageous because waves reverberating off the side walls can slow a swimmer. Also, swimmers in the middle lanes are better able to monitor other competitors.

U.S. Trials
The United States swimming team for Rio de Janeiro are selected from June 26-July 3, 2016, at the CenturyLink Center in Omaha, Neb. Under FINA (the overarching governing body of swimming) rules, countries are allowed a maximum of two swimmers per individual event at the Olympics. Since the time standards to qualify for the U.S. Trials are nearly as stringent as those to qualify for the Games, the U.S. will have maximum representation in all 27 individual events on the Olympic program. In the 100m and 200m freestyle events, the top six finishers at the Olympic Trials typically earn Olympic berths. The top two will swim the 100m and 200m individual events in Rio de Janeiro, while the others will be used to fill out the four-member relay teams. Having two extra swimmers allows those participating individually to skip relay preliminaries.

Each country is allowed to enter up to eight swimmers in each relay. In many cases, a country will have alternates swim in the prelims, allowing the fastest swimmers to be rested for the final. Athletes who swim in only the heats are awarded a medal if their country earns one in the final, meaning up to eight swimmers can win a medal for a relay.

Open water
The 10k open water race has only a final, which will be held in at Fort Copacabana in the Rio de Janeiro Games. It was introduced to the Olympics in 2008 in Beijing and is sometimes referred to as "Marathon Swimming" or "the 10k." Twenty-five competitors will swim in the event. There are two 10k races: one for the men, and one for the women.

The US Olympic Trials are over.  This is the toughest Olympic team to make for track and field.  So many finalists who came 4th to 8th position would be running at Rio 2016 if they had another passport!

There are plenty of stories out there, but as always, I will only focus on the coaching aspect (if you want sensationalism and shoddy journalism, you can go to Google news :)

Lane Draws for the 400 meters

This question was asked on Facebook, and I had to ask my old-time coach Kevin Tyler (now at ALTIS) about this pesky rule.  Be sure to follow him on Twitter!

The rule is, the position you finish guarantees you a spot into the next round, but the time you run determines your lane draw.

Let’s use the semi-finals to finals as the example, regardless of a 2 section (16 runners) vs 3 section semi-finals (24 runners)

The IAAF rule preferred lanes is 3-4-5-6 on an 8 lane track, so top 4 times get randomly selected for lanes 3-4-5-6, and next 4 times get 1-2-7-8, assuming a 8 lane track.  (Sometimes on a 9 lane track, they don’t use Lane 1, so it’s 4-5-6-7 and 2-3-8-9)

Hence, make sure you ABSOLUTELY qualify for the next round!  (do I need to remind you this?)

But whoa… it’s not that easy.

Here are the results for the USA Olympic Trials 400 meters:

And here are the lane draw assignments:

400m Lane Draws

  1. Michael Berry Nike 45.63
  2. Kyle Clemons adidas 44.79
  3. Gino Hall Florida 45.33
  4. David Verburg adidas 45.19
  5. LaShawn Merritt Nike 45.05
  6. Gil Roberts Nike 44.67
  7. Tony McQuay adidas 44.24
  8. Najee Glass Florida 44.79

So the rule for USA (not IAAF) tracks is, every stadium has what they called “preferred lanes”.  And for Hayward Field, the preferred lanes were 4-5-6-7 with 1-2-3-8 as the second choice.

Hence that explains why Tony McQuay got Lane 7.  Did that hurt him for the Finals? No one will ever know, but we do know every lane is 400 meters, and you have to run your own race accordingly.

I don’t agree with this rule, but those are the rules in the USA. 

Filed Under: 400 meters, Track & Field