Bracket Challenge: Which NCAA Event Is Hardest?

We’ve got bracket fever here at SwimSwam. After our ISL logo bracket pulled in huge amount of poll numbers, we’re cooking up another bracket, this time to test swimming’s age-old question: which event is hardest?

See also:

Some formatting notes:

  • We’re starting with NCAA events for this bracket – so all races are in short course yards.
  • We used all the NCAA events we could dig up – in order to come up with a more even 16 team bracket, we included both the 1000 free (used in college dual meets and in Divisions II) and the 100 IM (approved for inclusion in the NCAA, even if it’s not commonly used).
    • Still, that’s only 15 events, so one event is going to wind up with a first-round bye.
  • We pulled out 8 events as “seeded” events, at the top of each first-round bracket. There’s no perfect way to set up the bracket fairly, but we gave ‘seeds’ to the eight events specifically mentioned in our 2017 series where 25 coaches and 25 swimmers shared what they thought were the hardest events.
    • From there, we ordered the 8 seeded events and the 8 unseeded events (including the first round bye) using a random number generator.

Hardest NCAA Event Bracket

Round 1 Polls

Which event is the hardest? Define ‘hardest’ however you wish. Your vote is your own.

200 Breaststroke vs 100 Butterfly

Which event is harder? (short course yards)

  • 200 Breaststroke (83%)
  • 100 Butterfly (17%)
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200 Butterfly vs 100 Backstroke

Which event is harder? (short course yards)

  • 200 Butterfly (94%)
  • 100 Backstroke (6%)
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200 Freestyle vs 200 IM

Which event is harder? (short course yards)

  • 200 Freestyle (55%)
  • 200 IM (45%)
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1650 Freestyle vs 100 Freestyle

Which event is harder? (short course yards)

  • 1650 Freestyle (84%)
  • 100 Freestyle (16%)
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200 Backstroke vs 1000 Freestyle

Which event is harder? (short course yards)

  • 200 Backstroke (53%)
  • 1000 Freestyle (47%)
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400 IM vs 100 Breaststroke

Which event is harder? (short course yards)

  • 400 IM (96%)
  • 100 Breaststroke (4%)
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50 Freestyle vs 100 IM

Which event is harder? (short course yards)

  • 50 Freestyle (58%)
  • 100 IM (42%)
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volmenusa
1 year ago

Which event is hardest? 1m, 3m or 10m for divers? I say 10m cause when a diver misses it hurts BAD!!!!

WV SWAMMER
Reply to  volmenusa
1 year ago

DiveDove

Right Dude Here
Reply to  volmenusa
1 year ago

No diver in the history of the sport has ever missed the ground.

1001pools
Reply to  Right Dude Here
1 year ago

Clearly, divers need to read more Douglas Adams

gator
1 year ago

just to be sure, do you mean which event is hardest to win at NCAA’s, or more generally which one is the hardest to swim? (and BTW, 100 IM is not an NCAA event last time I checked)

Ragnar
Reply to  gator
1 year ago
phelp's dog
1 year ago

the 2% of 100 breastrokers need to chill

hiswimcoach
Reply to  phelp's dog
1 year ago

One of the votes was me accidentally missing the 400IM button haha

JCO
1 year ago

The 50 is not a hard race to complete, but it is, in my opinion, the hardest event to be elite at (My best event is the 200 fly)

Will 37
Reply to  JCO
1 year ago

I think all events are hard to be elite. I would say that 50 free has the LEAST margin of error

Eagleswim
Reply to  JCO
1 year ago

I’d say 200 free just because there’s a higher volume of people who can get there. Sprinters can go up to it, distance swimmers can go down to it, imers/stroke folks can translate to it.

Mikeh
Reply to  Eagleswim
1 year ago

That’s a great point. I had never thought of it that way. It makes sense. One must face a higher level of competition, simply because the number of potential competitors is greater.

SWISHER
1 year ago

You should overrule the random number generator and put the 1650 and the 400IM on opposite sides of the brackett.

SWISHER
Reply to  Jared Anderson
1 year ago

Haha, as someone who swam both the 400IM and 200FL, I’d never want to train for or swim the mile. Too many laps, too much freestyle.

Eagleswim
Reply to  SWISHER
1 year ago

I mean I hated training for the mile, but that’s a different question. Once you’ve trained for it it’s not so bad. I was on a bus at conference championships when my coach asked me Saturday morning if I would rather do 2 breast or the 1650 and I hate to admit it but I was feeling lazy so I picked the 1650.

1001pools
Reply to  Jared Anderson
1 year ago

But, did you also ask them how many of them had actually gone through a season (or years) of training and actually ever seriously raced a 1650? It’s hard to speak about that which you don’t know.

Admin
Reply to  1001pools
1 year ago

We tried, but all of the milers were still at practice when we reached out. Sprinters were done, showered, and back on their phones.

Packoastie
Reply to  Braden Keith
1 year ago

Well done Braden

Sccoach
1 year ago

I was a 200 backstroker and a distance freestyler, and the 200 back vs the 1,000 is one of the more closer ones in the poll.

I’ve heard all the arguments and have experienced how hard a 200 back is. It’s hard. When it comes down to it when I’m behind the blocks the one I’m fearing more is the 1,000. Hands down. Yeah the 200 back is painful but it’s nothing compared to an intense 40 lap freestyle race.

That is the one where I totally disagree with the voters.

TINY HANDS
Reply to  Sccoach
1 year ago

200 back hurts more for me. You HAVE to go to the legs early, there’s just no way around it, so the last 100 hurts a lot. 1000 hurts too, no question, but not in that oxygen debt-y I think I’m going to die sort of way.

Virtus
Reply to  TINY HANDS
1 year ago

I feel like backstroke pain is more muscular and distance free is more oxygen debty

Sccoach
Reply to  Virtus
1 year ago

It really depends on how “harder race” is being classified. Harder to swim or harder to prepare for. I think the 200 back is harder to prepare for since 200’s in general are difficult to pace and in backstroke you need to be prepared with more quality underwaters.

In a 1,000, if you are swimming it correctly, it is very difficult. If you just hold a comfortable pace without having an exhausting 100 pace you are just taking too easy. I think a misconception is that distance swimmers are doing that, but the quality distance swimmers aren’t. And a 1,000 isn’t really that long for a true distance swimmer so they should be really pushing it almost the whole… Read more »

iLikePsych
1 year ago

I’m assuming we’re using the ‘most grueling/painful’ definition of hardest, not ‘most difficult to perform at 100%’.

I think 50 vs. 100 free was the most difficult choice to make for round 1

200 SIDESTROKE B CUT
1 year ago

400 IM totally got the easiest bracket. Basically the Duke basketball of swimming.

SwimFan49
Reply to  200 SIDESTROKE B CUT
1 year ago

man, i don’t know. 500 FR got a 1st round bye and then takes on winner of 2 Fr/2IM. I think I like it’s chances, especially if it faces the 2 Free.

About Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson swam for nearly twenty years. Then, Jared Anderson stopped swimming and started writing about swimming. He's not sick of swimming yet. Swimming might be sick of him, though. Jared was a YMCA and high school swimmer in northern Minnesota, and spent his college years swimming breaststroke and occasionally pretending …

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