For the second straight Olympiad, the final entrants to the open water 10km race in Rio will be decided in Setubal, Portugal, FINA has confirmed to SwimSwam this week.
Though the dates haven’t yet been set, knowing the location will help some of the world’s best plan their contingencies in the event that they aren’t in the top 10 at the 2015 World Championships.
At a basic level, the top 10 swimmers in the 10km race at the World Championships in 2015 will automatically be eligible for the Olympics. Then, the FINA Olympic Marathon Swim Qualifier (the race in Setubal) will select at least 14 more men and 14 more women for the Olympics, plus a minimum of 1 each from both genders from the host country Brazil (though it’s likely that Brazil will already be handled in the above two finish orders).
A country can send up to 2 men and 2 women, but only if they place 2 in the top 10 at Worlds. Any countries who have a swimmer of a certain gender in the top 10 at Worlds won’t participate in the Marathon Swim Olympic Qualifier.
This begs the question: How important is the Olympic Marathon Qualifier, given that the 10 best open water swimmers, theoretically, come out of the World Championships in 2015?
As it turns out, in practice, this qualifier is extremely important in the wild world of open water, where the 10 best at any race, even a World Championship, are not as indicative of the 10 best in the world as they would be in the pool.
How Things Played Out in 2012
In 2012, four of the six open water Olympic medalists came not from the 2011 World Championships qualification, rather they came from the 2012 Marathon Olympic qualifying event, despite that being only a few months before the actual Olympics.
- Ous Mellouli, Tunisia – OW Qualifier (1st)
- Thomas Lurz, Germany – Worlds (2nd)
- Richard Weinberger – OW Qualifier (2nd)
- Eva Risztov, Hungary – OW Qualifier (2nd)
- Haley Anderson – OW Qualifier (1st)
- Martina Grimaldi – Worlds (2nd)
In fact, two of the medalists (Haley Anderson and Ous Mellouli) didn’t even participate in the 10k at Worlds in 2011, and a third (Eva Risztov) was disqualified at that meet. There seems to be some sense of momentum in play here, especially in 2012 where many traditional pool distance swimmers were still just testing the waters of the marathon swim.
Generally speaking, most of the high finishers at the Olympics qualified through the World Championships, but those who rose to the top of that pile were coming through the qualifier.
The speculative quandary is whether or not this will play out similarly in 2016. As the open water side of the competitive sport continues to grow, there are more-and-more swimmers who are focusing on open water, if not specifically specializing in it.
Our initial hunch is that as that two things are going to happen with 2016 Olympic qualifying: one, there will be fewer surprises, like Haley Anderson and Ous Mellouli, who take up open water at the 11th hour to capture Olympic gold, somewhat muting the medal effect of the Olympic qualifier.
Besides that, however, I think as open water training and science is developing, people will be less afraid of this marathon qualifying event in Setubal, because success has come from that event, and at the very least, we may see increased participation at major ‘preview meets’ for the Olympics in 2016 to try and gain some of that same momentum.