On Thursday the French Federation (FFN) released the criteria by which it plans to select a team to represent the Tricolor at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. And they weren’t playing around.
Apparently following the “Build it and they will come” philosophy, the FFN tightened their standards on every single event, and by a considerable amount. In 2012 the Federation had a multi-tiered approach, in which swimmers had to perform to minimum standards in heats, in semi-finals, and then in finals at their qualifying meet, the Elite Nationals at Dunkerque in March of 2012. However, in the end, the swims required in finals were exactly FINA’s “A” standards for London.
Four years later, the FFN has taken a very different approach. While the selection criteria are less complicated, the standards are much, much faster: the French men’s times are around 2% faster than FINA’s “A” standards for Rio, while the women’s times are 2-3% faster. The swimmers must achieve these times in finals at the Elite National Championships in Montpellier (March 29-April 3, 2016).
It is interesting to note that, with only a few exceptions (men’s 100 and 200 breast, and 200 fly), the FFN has set the bar at a level that would have made finals in London. In the spreadsheet below, column J indicates the 8th place time out of semi-finals in London; in other words, the time it took to make finals. Column K compares the French 2016 Rio standard to the London final cut-off.
The other thing worth pointing out is that, in seven events (women’s 50 free, 100 back, 100 and 200 breast, and 400 IM, and men’s 200 back and 400 IM), these new French qualifying times are faster than the current French National Records “RF” as shown in column I.
One can’t help but wonder if this is the FFN’s wish list. There was a lot of discussion in France this summer after Kazan, where the French women’s team didn’t live up to expectations. After an outstanding collective performance at their selection meet, the Elite Nationals in Limoges last April, “les Bleues” fell flat in Kazan. In a post-Kazan interview with Agence France-Presse, Fabrice Pellerin, the national women’s team director, expressed frustration that while the French women swam well in heats and semis, they were not at the same level as their international counterparts when it came time to making the finals. He suggested setting qualifying standards at a level that corresponds to a potential medalist. “If (next time) we take 8 or 10 swimmers, half men, half women, who have met a more restrictive criteria, these will be 10 swimmers who could potentially medal. It’s a philosophy, but it’s not up to me to put it into practice.”
A month later, it looks as though the FFN has adopted this philosophy. They have given themselves a back door, however. As a second step, the National Technical Director (DTN) has the right to add up to 6 men and 6 women to the team, as long as they make the FINA “A” standard in Montpellier.