A Peek Behind the Scenes—How are OMS Relay Teams Set Up

Have you ever been to a swim meet and watched the relay events when teams set Oregon, Northwest Zone, USMS or even FINA world records?  They seem to have a lot of fun, with high-fives and group photos after their races.  Have you wondered how they managed to set up relays, and if you might be able to be on a relay?

Many years ago, I used to watch four older men who were regular meet attendees.  They would get together at meets and swim relays.  They would set records in Freestyle and Medley relays, and repeat those relays in SCY, LCM and SCM meets throughout the year.  I figured they had found a lucky combination and their combined age made it possible.

Out of curiosity, I checked out the relay times for my age group and found that if I could find three other swimmers in my age group with the same times as me, we’d come pretty close to some record times.  Then I started looking through the heat sheets at swim meets looking at entry times for potential relay teams, but that took a lot of time and if I found one, it was usually too late to get a relay card submitted.

That’s when I decided to use my computer skills to solve this problem.  I wrote a program that downloads individual swimmer times from the USMS website, record times from SwimOregon.org, USMS and FINA websites, and meet rosters from the ClubAssistant website.  Then, the program generates every possible relay team for the swimmers at a swim meet, arranges them by age group, sorts them and compares them to the records.  With this tool, I’ve been able to find relay teams that have set Oregon, NW Zone, National and even World records!  It even handled large numbers of swimmers like the 250+ from Oregon that we had at the 2016 Summer Nationals!

It has streamlined the process of finding relay teams so that it only takes about a half-hour to select a meet, download the latest info, generate teams for the usual 8 or 15 relay events at each meet, and select those relays that can set new records.  I do this before every meet, as soon as the registration closes, and send out emails to the people on those relay teams.

The process isn’t perfect, though.  The program downloads the fastest times listed on the USMS site, though most people aren’t racing at top speed at every meet.  If the swimmers don’t have times for a course (SCY, LCM or SCM), then they won’t be picked for a relay until I get estimated times from each swimmer that I can plug into the database.

And when it comes to the day of the swim meet, it’s kind of like herding cats to get all the relay teams entered and to swim the events.  Many times, swimmers don’t want to swim relays because they are focused on their individual events, and a one-day meet doesn’t give enough time to rest between events.  Other times, swimmers are sick or injured and don’t come to the meet, or have to leave early.

While my computer program can regenerate relay teams within a minute, after making changes for stroke times or availability, it usually means changing the team or going to a different age group.  It’s kind of like having a coach swap players during any other sports game.

With all the challenges of creating and entering relays at a meet, I am always excited to see the relay teams swim together and set new records.  One of my big motivations is to see Oregon have more NW Zone records than our big rival to the north, Washington (PN), and to appear in USMS National and FINA World records.  With the pool of swimmers we have in Oregon (pun intended), it’s pretty easy to find record-setting relay teams.

In July, 2017, Stephen Darnell wrote an article in the Aqua Master about Oregon Masters Swimmers & National Relay Records.  Stephen is the person who reviews the results from every swim meet with an Oregon swimmer and updates the LMSC and Zone records for the websites.  He found that while Oregon has less than 2% of the registered USMS swimmers, we hold 4.6% of the National relay records!  I like to think that it’s because of my computer program, but it’s really because of the excellent swimmers we have who like to swim on relay teams.

At the Hood River meet in November, there were 13 women and 16 men, or 29 total swimmers.  These would create around 500 possible women’s and men’s freestyle relay teams, and around 4,300 mixed free relay teams across six age groups (120-159, 160-199, 200-239, 240-279, 280-319 and 320-359!).  There were over 7,000 possible women’s and men’s medley teams, and over 60,000 possible mixed medley teams.  Even though only two relays were entered, one set a Zone record and the other set a FINA World record in the women’s 400 SCM Medley Relay in the 240-279 age group!

At the Chehalem meet in January, there were 37 women and 42 men, almost 80 swimmers total.  This created around ten thousand possible women’s and men’s freestyle relay teams, 25,000 possible women’s and men’s medley teams and over one million possible mixed medley relay teams over six age groups (18+, 25+, 35+, 45+, 55+ and 65+).  More relays were entered, and more Zone records were broken.

If you are someone who would like to swim on relays, there are lots of meets coming up in 2019, and I will be generating relay teams at most of them.  Make sure you’re registered with the OREG club.  I’ll be looking for those record-breaking relays; so check the list at the check-in table. and/or send me your email address.  You don’t need to wait for me, though.  Any four women, four men, or two women plus two men can create a relay team.  Remember to submit the relay card at the meet, and good luck!

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