Update: A previous version of this article listed the 2008 Olympic Team based on the psych sheet, not the final results. This has been corrected.
(This post was inspired by this comment from The Grand Inquisitor. Thanks.)
The number of swimmers who qualify for Olympic Trials has been increasing. In 2012, 1831 athletes participated up from 1237 in 2008 and 689 in 2004. USA Swimming’s website says that 1660 athletes have qualified for the 2016 meet as of April 18th. The majority of swimmers at the U.S. Olympic Trials have no realistic shot at making the Olympics (more on that here). Anyone outside the top 24 is an extreme long shot and the 689 swimmers in 2004 was enough for there to be around 40 athletes in each event.
The larger meet means that many young swimmers are able to gain real Olympic Trials experience, and this is often billed as a selling point (besides the obvious draw to fill seats in a basketball arena). While the extent of those benefits is open to debate (the pressure a 100th seed is under is, for most people, less that on a top 4 seed), undeniably many more US swimmers have trials experience by the time they’re really ready to contend for a spot than used to.
The 2008 Olympic Team had 11 swimmers that didn’t swim at the 2004 Trials (or 10 if you don’t think Dara Torres should count, because she already had Olympic experience but was sort of retired for a while). The 2012 team only had 5 swimmers that didn’t participate in the 2008 trials. 15 swimmers on the 2012 team previously swam in a Trials where their best finish was outside the top 24. Here’s a look at the 2012 team member’s top finish at previous Olympic Trials. Jason Lezak’s 30th place in the 50 free in 1996 is missing from the table because I didn’t want an extra column for one swim.
(Number in table is highest finish from that year’s Trials).
|Kara Lynn Joyce||4||1||75|
Only 5 2008 team members had a previous trials where they finished outside the top 24. Here’s the top trials finish at previous Trials for members of the 2008 Olympic team. Missing are Dara Torres’ finishes from 1984, 1988, and 1992 (she made the team each of those years).
Based on the recent trend, there’s a good chance that the number of Olympians with non-contender Trials experience will be higher than ever this year.