Aquatics Blog

Yards vs. Meters vs. Meters

Every wonder why competitive swimming has three (3) different courses of play; short course yards, short course meters, and long course meters.  And why are there two different “mile” races, 1650-yards and 1500-meters? And for the record, a mile is closer to 1600-meters or 1750-yards. 

America is the only country on the planet using the “English” system of inches, feet, and miles (OK, technically Liberia and Myanmar are often listed as sad-sack English unit users). Interestingly, even England utilizes the metric system. In the 1970’s the United States made an half-hearted and unsuccessful attempt to convert Americans to the metric system. From gallons to liters and from miles to kilometers, Americans resisted the change. In track and field, running tracks were converted from 440 yards to 400 meters; however lengthening all of the nation’s swimming pools from yards to meters never caught on; it is extremely prohibitive to say the least.

USA Swimming’s current leadership is currently making another push toward the metric system. Spring Nationals are to be competed in 25 meters, while the summer Nationals will continue to be in 50-meter pools. The NCAA experimented with a similar plan; however abandon the plan shortly thereafter.

Related to yards vs. meters, USA Swimming’s Senior Swimming Committee previously recommended to stop hosting the spring Nationals altogether. National Championships competed in yards have no comparison to other times in the world or world record possibilities. Even from a marketing standpoint, it is difficult to explain to sponsors why there are two Nationals every year.  There is only one World Series, Super Bowl, or NBA Championship. USA Swimming’s initiative failed, but many believe the Spring Nationals are not truly a National Championship because so many eligible competitors do not elect to attend due to their proximity to the NCAA Swimming Championships, many of America’s finer athletes opted not to attend the USA Nationals due to missed school, financial, and motivational reasons.

It is not expected that 25-yard pools will be obsolete in the near future, but forward-thinking Owners should consider a “stretch” pool with a bulkhead to accommodate multiple race course configurations for yards and meters.  Other design possibilities exist, including a 25-yard x 25-meter pool, but the flexibility of pool length and even flexibility of water depth, though initially expensive, may be of paramount importance in the future.

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