How Have the U.S. Olympic Trials Cuts Progressed Since 2008?

by Spencer Penland 9

May 24th, 2022 National, News

On Monday, USA Swimming released the qualifying standards for the 2024 US Olympic Trials.

Unsurprisingly, every standard is faster than it was for the 2021 event. You can read our breakdown comparison of the 2024 cuts versus 2021 here. In this post, we’ll be looking at a broader view of how U.S. Olympic Trials cuts have progressed since the 2008 Olympic Trials.

In the tables below, you’ll find the progression of U.S. Olympic Trials standards dating back to 2008, including the total time change since 2008 and the percentage change since 2008. Note: The women’s 1500 free and men’s 800 free were only added to the Olympic schedule starting during the 2020 Olympics.

WOMEN
Event 2008 2012 2016 2020 Wave I 2020 Wave II 2024 Time Change Since 2008 Percentage Change Since 2008
50 Free 26.39 26.39 26.19 25.99 25.65 25.69 -0.70 -2.65%
100 Free 57.19 57.19 56.49 56.29 55.56 55.79 -1.40 -2.44%
200 Free 2:03.39 2:03.19 2:02.39 2:01.69 2:00.24 2:00.89 -2.50 -2.02%
400 Free 4:19.39 4:19.39 4:17.99 4:16.89 4:13.28 4:15.49 -3.90 -1.50%
800 Free 8:50.49 8:50.49 8:49.99 8:48.09 8:44.01 8:45.79 -4.70 -0.88%
1500 Free 16:49.19 16:44.60 16:45.69 N/A N/A
100 Back 1:04.59 1:03.99 1:03.39 1:02.69 1:01.49 1:01.89 -2.70 -4.18%
200 Back 2:17.99 2:17.99 2:16.59 2:14.69 2:12.94 2:13.59 -4.40 -3.18%
100 Breast 1:12.59 1:12.19 1:11.49 1:10.99 1:09.55 1:10.29 -2.30 -3.16%
200 Breast 2:35.99 2:35.99 2:34.99 2:33.29 2:30.49 2:31.69 -4.30 -2.75%
100 Fly 1:02.39 1:01.99 1:01.19 1:00.69 59.59 1:00.19 -2.20 -3.52%
200 Fly 2:16.69 2:16.49 2:14.99 2:14.59 2:12.56 2:13.69 -3.0 -2.19%
200 IM 2:20.49 2:19.49 2:18.69 2:17.39 2:15.26 2:16.09 -4.40 -3.13%
400 IM 4:55.89 4:55.89 4:54.99 4:51.79 4:47.72 4:49.89 -6.0 -2.34%

Here is the men’s table:

MEN
Event 2008 2012 2016 2020 Wave I 2020 Wave II 2024 Time Change Since 2008 Percentage Change Since 2008
50 Free 23.49 23.49 23.29 23.19 22.71 22.79 -0.70 -2.97%
100 Free 51.59 51.49 50.69 50.49 49.74 49.99 -1.60 -3.10%
200 Free 1:52.89 1:52.89 1:51.89 1:50.79 1:49.65 1:49.99 -2.90 -2.56%
400 Free 3:59.99 3:59.99 3:58.69 3:57.29 3:54.21 3:55.59 -4.40 -1.83%
800 Free 8:12.99 8:08.95 8:09.69 N/A N/A
1500 Free 15:53.59 15:53.59 15:49.99 15:44.89 15:35.76 15:39.89 -13.60 -1.42%
100 Back 57.99 57.59 57.19 56.59 54.41 55.69 -2.30 -3.96%
200 Back 2:04.99 2:04.99 2:03.79 2:02.99 2:00.81 2:01.69 -3.30 -2.64%
100 Breast 1:04.69 1:04.69 1:03.69 1:03.29 1:01.97 1:02.19 -2.50 -3.86%
200 Breast 2:20.79 2:20.79 2:18.39 2:17.89 2:15.28 2:15.99 -4.80 -3.40%
100 Fly 55.59 55.29 54.79 54.19 53.37 53.59 -2.0 -3.59%
200 Fly 2:03.99 2:03.99 2:01.99 2:01.19 1:59.63 2:00.49 -3.50 -2.82%
200 IM 2:07.39 2:06.59 2:05.09 2:04.09 2:03.02 2:03.49 -3.90 -3.06%
400 IM 4:30.49 4:30.49 4:27.49 4:25.99 4:23.24 4:25.19 -5.30 -1.95%

Naturally, times have gotten quite a bit faster across the board since 2008. The single greatest change in a specific discipline has come in women’s backstroke, which has seen a 2.7-second improvement in the 100 and 4.40 seconds in the 200 in the last 5 Olympic cycles. Men’s breaststroke is another discipline which has seen tremendous improvement, as the 100 cut has gotten 2.5 seconds faster, while the 200 has come down 4.80 seconds.

On an interesting note, the women’s 800 free has gotten 4.7 seconds faster since 2008, while the men’s 1500 has seen the cut come down a whopping 13.60 seconds.

Also notable, time standards have come down under barriers in a number of events for the 2024 Olympic Trials. For example, the men’s 100 free cut is now under 50 seconds, and the 200 is under 1:50. The women’s 400 IM has dipped under 4:50 as well. Of course, the cuts were under those marks for the 2020 Wave II meet, however, that was a unique case as the COVID-19 pandemic led USA Swimming to split the meet in half.

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Awsi Dooger
1 month ago

No surprise that women’s distance racing is the weakest area of the sport, the only race that has improved by less than 1% over 16 years. Ledecky’s career and records will last a long time partially because very few elite athletes are attracted to those distances in the first place. She won’t have to fend off 10 newcomers. Maybe a few tops. That’s why it’s ridiculous that Michele Tafoya was asking her about retirement. Ledecky made the proper choice to drop the 200. I think she could extend her career to 2032 if she eventually dropped the 400 also and concentrated solely on 800 and 1500. As someone else mentioned in this thread, track athletes almost invariably move up in… Read more »

Mac
1 month ago

I would like to see the original 2020 cuts before the split due to covid in this chart

Inclusive Parent
Reply to  Mac
1 month ago

That’s what the Wave 1 Cuts are.

Entgegen
1 month ago

As someone who grew up following Olympic Trials and dreamed of making the meet, it is insane that the tame times that I swim now, which I consider to be nowhere close to OT-caliber swims, would qualify just 12 years ago.

The sport truly has progressed so much and it’s hard to put into perspective without this data. Got work to do for 2024!

Sean Justice
1 month ago

If you would have done it since 1996, you would see them being slower until recently. The 1500 was like 15:46 in 1996 and then it took until 2020 for it to become faster.

JimSwim22
1 month ago

I don’t consider the Wave II times as Olympic Trial cuts.

Thomas
1 month ago

It’s cool to know that in 2022 we’ve got a few women who would’ve qualified for 2008 Olympic Trials.

I wonder how far back we would have to go in order for a woman to qualify for finals, how far back to qualify for the team, and then how far back to medal at the Olympics.

eagleswim
Reply to  Thomas
1 month ago

not what you asked, but ledecky’s 800 and 1500 would have both been world records on the men’s side in 1975. I was actually surprised to see that he 400, 800, and 1500 all are very close to what Tim shaw was doing that year., down to the second in the case of the 800 and 1500.

Mediocre Swammer
Reply to  Thomas
1 month ago

I only thought about Americans’ times and just went by what I remember, but I think the following women could qualify for finals in 1984 (included links to the relevant wikipedia page)
Katie Ledecky in the 1500
Regan Smith in the 100 and 200 back (also Missy Franklin in the 200 that year)

Last edited 1 month ago by Mediocre Swammer