ISL Will Experiment With New 800 Free During This Weekend’s Grand Final

Ahead of this weekend’s final match in Budapest, Hungary, the International Swimming League has announced a new race trial of an 800 free for possible inclusion in future seasons of the league. The race will take place at 18:00 Central European Time, after the conclusion of Day 1 of the Grand Final of the 2020 ISL season.

The trial race, which will be done with only male swimmers, will feature 3 swimmers from the 2020 ISL season – Mikhail Romanchuk (Aqua Centurions), Felix Auboeck (New York Breakers), and Zane Grothe (DC Trident) – whose seasons are over (and therefore won’t impact the team battle). The league has also imported 5 other swimmers to participate: Akos Kalmár (Hungary), Damien Joly (France), David Aubry (France), Henrik Christiansen (Norway) and Lander Henrickx (Belgium).

While the league has generally shied away from distance races to this point, the league has found a format that it’s interested in.

Participants earn points from their positions at three checkpoints in the race – 100m, 400m and 800m. The winner is the swimmer with most points collected.

Points are awarded on a sliding scale. At the 100m and 400m checkpoints, the first-placed swimmer gets 9pts, second place receives 7pts, third placed 5pts, with 3pts awarded for fourth and 1pt for fifth.

At the 800m finish, points are awarded to all swimmers on a sliding scale from 9pts for the winner to 1pt for eighth. Jackpots will each be awarded, if relevant, at each split, with swimmers able to ‘steal’ their opponents’ points. The total ‘team points’ awarded become the aggregate of points earned at the three checkpoints, minus any penalty points (including -1 for finishing outside the cutoff time for the whole 800m of 7:56.00).

Under this format, there is a maximum possible of 87 points available for the race. That’s 2 more than the current highest-scoring race, ‘skins,’ which have 85 points available.

This gives rise to possible strategies like what we’ve seen in skins, where a team that was short on distance swimmers could enter their best 200 freestyler, for example, have them win top points at the first two splits, and take what they can get for the rest of the race, still coming out ahead of teams with swimmers who actually placed high at the final touch.

The concept is similar to criterium racing in road cycling, or the elimination mile in athletics, where it is not just the final time that matters, but the intermediary splits.

“The 800m freestyle pilot features some of the best swimmers in the world at this distance and the ISL is keen to give them a taste of the atmosphere and excitement of Season 2020,” ISL CEO Andrea Di Nino says.

“We are always exploring ideas for thrilling new races and this is a good opportunity to test new formats for the future. This event potentially adds even more unpredictability, intrigue and excitement.”

Prize money will be awarded for the 8 swimmers participating in the trial.

He added: “We will analyze the outcome of this test and hold discussions with our stakeholders on different formats for the future.”

Among the challenges that inclusion of an 800 free would see are that the ISL would have to make a pretty substantial change in the fast-moving format of the meets to fit the race into the existing 2-day by 2-hour time slot. That package is already packed tightly enough that the end of the day’s television broadcast has, on occasion, cut off the final team scores in a rush to jump to the next show.

This could also fundamentally alter the way swimmers train for the 800, as it will no longer be enough to simply have the best 800 time, regardless of how one gets there.

But the idea will open up more opportunities for distance swimmers to participate in the league, which has been one of the few complaints from within the ‘participant’ community (coaches and athletes), who have otherwise been pleased with the athlete-facing presentation of the 2020 ISL season.

The league would likely have to expand rosters by a spot to add the event as well, with the current 12-individuals-per-meet already resulting in challenges to entries.

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10 months ago

So it’s like a skins’ race except a single swim and distance. Nice. This’ll force notorious back half swimmers to up their game on the front end.

Reply to  Swammer
10 months ago

But will they want to change their training just for this? Back half swimmers generally swim that way because that’s how they win races, and I don’t know if guys trying to win medals at the Olympics are gonna’ switch to being front-half animals just to win a few bucks in the ISL.

Reply to  N P
10 months ago

They might not switch their training, but they might switch strategy just for the ISL.

It’s all about points, so even if they don’t finish in as quick a time overall as they would in a straight race, the fly and die might get more points.

10 months ago

“Prize money will be awarded for the 8 swimmers participating in the trial.“

An ISL spokesman added – “Eventually. Maybe. I mean I swear we really do intend to pay them sooner or later, but it’s hard”.

Reply to  Willswim
10 months ago

Well, let’s hope they are well-paid. Otherwise it’s not interesting to fly there, have only one race and go back home.

Ol’ Longhorn
Reply to  whever
10 months ago

Check is in the mail.

10 months ago

I’d love to see an elimination version of this event. Put lights on the bottom of the pool to let the swimmers know when they’re eliminated. Eliminate 2 each two hundred or something like that

Reply to  CACrushers
10 months ago

Almost exactly as I thought it. Last swimmer at 200 meters is eliminated and then the last at every 100 more meters. That will leave two swimmers to battle it out in the final 100.

Reply to  iceman
10 months ago

This would make distance swimming SOOOOO much more fun. Nothing against distance events. But come on, that sounds like a blast and a half. I’d rather watch that than 50 skins

Reply to  Coleman Hodges
10 months ago

I’d always prefer to watch any distance race over the splash & dash. I’m completely in awe of sprinters and what they can do, but the 50s are generally just a mess of water and then looking at the scoreboard to see who won. No strategy, very little change of positioning, and all over way too quickly.

Twitter Guy
Reply to  1001pools
10 months ago

Agreed – I’d love to watch 400 & 800 IMs as well, but would the average TV watcher scroll through their LIVE events, pick swimming, and watch an 8 minute race that has the potential to be a blow out?

Tough to say, but important to remember that “super fans” aren’t going to bring in the big $

Ol’ Longhorn
Reply to  Coleman Hodges
10 months ago

Come on. There’s nothing that tops a Ben Proud or Coleman Stewart round 3 swim.

Reply to  Coleman Hodges
10 months ago

Absolutely agree. The only disadvantage I can think of is that the two swimmers remaining at the final 100 wouldn’t necessarily be in lanes next to each other. I don’t think that’s very bad but maybe it would not look good on tv.

Inside Smoke
Reply to  CACrushers
10 months ago

I’ve had this idea too, I think it would add more excitement than the current sliding point scale system. I think seeing the field surge forward to avoid being eliminated would be very fun to watch. I’ve thought elimination miles in track are incredibly fun to watch and seeing that in swimming would be super fun.

Reply to  CACrushers
10 months ago

I would really enjoy this, particularly the creative way the ISL would come up with stopping whoever is last at the turn if it’s close. They’d probably send Rowdy in with a cannonball.

tea rex
10 months ago

This seems unnecessarily complicated.

Reply to  tea rex
10 months ago

They have to find a way to make distance swimmers involved without making the matches boring.

10 months ago

I guess the point make sense?

The Michael Phelps Caterpillar
10 months ago

What in tarnation is this? If they really want to do something, make it a 3k! Eliminate swimmers every 500! The final 3 duke it out! This is what I make my 10 and under group do every Saturday (those who are eliminated must do a 500 fly for getting out early).

Reply to  The Michael Phelps Caterpillar
10 months ago

LOL you’re definitely a SAND coach.

Kieron Smoth
10 months ago

Just put Dressel in it and I’ll watch it

10 months ago

I think this could be very interesting. Credit to the ISL for being innovative and experimenting with new ideas.

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Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder/co-owner of He first got his feet wet by building The Swimmers' Circle beginning in January 2010, and now comes to SwimSwam to use that experience and help build a new leader in the sport of swimming. Aside from his life on the InterWet, …

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