How are lanes assigned in swimming?

Fastest swimmer is always swimming in the middle. Swimmers get their competition lanes assigned based on their times in the previous heat.

In swimming competition, Your lane is assigned to you based on how good your time is when compared to other swimmers in the competition. Best swimmers get middle lanes and slower swimmers get side lanes.

Fastest swimmer swims in the middle, slower swimmers swim in the side lanes.

How do competitions decide on which swimmer gets which lane?

Whenever you are being submitted to a competition by your trainer (or yourself) - you submit your request to compete in a certain event. Event consists of the length (50, 100, 200 meters, etc.) and stroke (Backstroke, Freestyle, etc.). When submitting your event details, you also submit your personal best time. In most cases, you are also obligated to tell the competition where and when you reached that personal best record of yours. The more serious (professional) the swimming competition is, the more important proof of your best time is.

Then competition lines up all swimmers according to their best time and assigns them their heat and lane. So based on your personal best time, you get assigned the "spot in the competition" when you will compete with others in your heat (and in other heats inside the same event).

Can you win an event from the slow lane or heat?

If there are no finals, yes you can win the event from any lane and any heat. This is of course, as long as you were the fastest in that competition.

How does swimmers in the finals get their lanes assigned?

Just as with assigning lanes to qualifying heats, finals work the same way. The only difference is, swimming finalists get their final swim lanes assigned based on their qualifying heat time. This means...

Final heat lanes are assigned based not on personal best time, but on actual time showed in that competition.

Highest tier swimming competitions have three levels of swimming heats:

  • Qualifying
  • Semifinals
  • Finals

That means in highest level of competition, swimmers swim 3 times in order for the winners to be determined. Only winner of the last swim (final) gets the gold medal and all other places are assigned after final swim.

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