The Benefits of a Larger Olympic Trials

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).

2008 2004 2000
Allison Schmitt 2
Alyssa Anderson 8
Amanda Weir 8 3 31
Andrew Gemmell 10
Anthony Ervin 2
Ariana Kukors 3 10
Breeja Larson
Brendan Hansen 1 1 3
Caitlin Leverenz 3
Cammile Adams 19
Charlie Houchin 44
Chloe Sutton 3
Claire Donahue 32
Clark Burckle 5
Connor Jaeger
Conor Dwyer 52
Cullen Jones 3 30
Dana Vollmer 5 1 43
Elizabeth Beisel 2
Eric Shanteau 2 3 11
Jason Lezak 2 1 4
Jessica Hardy 1 5
Jimmy Feigen 28
Kara Lynn Joyce 4 1 75
Kate Ziegler 2 4
Kathleen Hersey 2
Katie Ledecky
Lauren Perdue 59
Lia Neal 28
Matt Grevers 2 7 61
Matt McLean 9
Micah Lawrence 14
Michael Phelps 1 1 2
Missy Franklin 37
Natalie Coughlin 1 1 4
Nathan Adrian 4
Nick Thoman 5
Peter Vanderkaay 1 3
Rachel Bootsma 35
Rebecca Soni 1 11
Ricky Berens 3
Ryan Lochte 2 2
Scott Weltz 30
Shannon Vreeland
Tyler Clary 3
Tyler McGill 4

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).

2004 2000 1996
Aaron Peirsol 1 2
Allison Schmitt
Amanda Beard 1 2 1
Ben Wildman-Tobriner
Brendan Hansen 1 3
Caroline Burckle 12
Christine Magnuson
Christine Marshall
Cullen Jones 30
Dara Torres 2
Dave Walters
Elaine Breeden 9
Elizabeth Beisel
Emily Silver 15
Eric Shanteau 3 11
Erik Vendt 2 1
Garrett Weber-Gale 7
Gil Stovall 9
Ian Crocker 1 1
Jason Lezak 1 4 30
Jessica Hardy 5
Julia Smit 7
Kate Ziegler 4
Kathleen Hersey
Katie Hoff 1
Kim Vandenberg 18
Klete Keller 1 1
Lacey Nymeyer 10
Larsen Jensen 1
Margaret Hoelzer 1 32
Mark Gangloff 2 14
Matt Grevers 7 61
Megan Jendrick 3 1
Michael Phelps 1 2
Natalie Coughlin 1 4
Nathan Adrian
Peter Vanderkaay 3
Rebecca Soni 11
Ricky Berens
Ryan Lochte 2
Scott Spann 26

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.

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Pretty sure Dana Vollmer did not make 2008 team?


Or Michael Klueh, Nick brunelli, Hayley mcgregory, davis tarwater – maybe this list is the 07 world champs team?


One correction: Megan Jendrick competed in the 2000 and 2004 Trials under the name Megan Quann and was a Olympian in 2000. I’m a bit confused by your numbers. By my calculations in 2012, there were only 9 swimmers with their best previous Trials finishes outside of the top 24- Bootsma, Franklin, Weltz, Neal, Perdue, Feigen, Dwyer, Donahue, and Houchin (not including the 4 that had never been to Trials before- Larson, Jaeger, Ledecky, and Vreeland). In 2008, there were 8 Trials rookies who made the team–Ritter, Schmitt, Wildman-Tobriner, Marshall, Walters, Beisel, Hersey, and Brunelli and only one former Trials competitor with his highest previous finish outside of the top 24, Jones, who made the team. Also, what evidence do… Read more »

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