How Many Swimmers Would Have Qualified for the 2020 Olympic Trials?

Braden Keith
by Braden Keith 16

April 23rd, 2020 News

Above: Carson Foster was one of the last qualifiers for the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials.

After the announcement that the 2020 Summer Olympic Games, and therefore the 2020 U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials, would be postponed until 2021, USA Swimming indicated that they were considering stiffening the Olympic Trials time standards for any new qualifiers between March of 2020 and the 2021 trials.

USA Swimming COO Mike Unger later communicated caution, saying that if that happens, or by how much, will be largely dependent on how long it takes teams to get back in the water. Among his comments was that Omaha indicated that there was enough hotel space for the move and a possible increase in participation – although anybody who’s been to the Olympic Trials might question that based on prior experience.

The reaction from coaches and swimmers around the country was swift and loud, demanding that the standards be left the same to give those swimmers who lost their chance at spring tapers, where they were shooting for Olympic Trials standards, the best chance possible to qualify.

Originally, the intent of both a shorter qualifying period and tougher standards was to shrink the number of participants to somewhere between 1,200 and 1,400, which is down from nearly 2,000 for the last few editions in Omaha.

As of the closure of swimming across the country (USA Swimming has said they won’t sanction competition until at least June), there were about 1,214 qualifiers. The word “about” is used here, because there’s some fuzziness on a handful of swimmers who hold dual citizenship and haven’t yet declared a nation to compete for.

What we wanted to know is – how many swimmers might have been robbed of Olympic Trials qualifications with the cancellation of the spring taper season?

Without a crystal ball, there’s no way to know for sure. There are at least hundreds of swimmers, maybe even north of a thousand, who were within striking distance of an Olympic Trials cuts and felt confident that, with a good taper, they were going to hit those cuts.

The best analysis we can make, then, is to look at what has happened in the past. This is still not perfect, because standards get faster every cycle, but 2016 is the best analysis.

Andrew Mering, one of the developers of the Swimulator tool and one of SwimSwam’s resident stat-guys, ran some data.

Late 2016 Olympic Trials Qualifiers – Women

Note: the Total Qualifiers row is based on individuals, not qualifying swims, so that’s not a “sum” of the rows above it.

Event Qualifiers As of 6/18/2016 Qualifiers as of 3/12/2016 “Late” Qualifiers
50 free 195 162 33
100 free 115 94 21
200 free 137 65 72
400 free 136 120 16
800 free 101 89 12
100 fly 159 129 30
200 fly 119 100 19
100 breast 132 115 17
200 breast 133 123 10
100 back 188 156 32
200 back 159 132 27
200 IM 156 136 20
400 IM 154 131 23
Total Qualifiers 909 765 144

There were 144 new qualifiers between March 12th, the equivalent date to when swimming basically shut down this year, and June 18th, the last day to qualify for the 2016 Olympic Trials.

There was a surprisingly-big list of swimmers who qualified during that period that could make the team this year:

  • Gretchen Walsh – At 13, the younger Walsh sister hit her first Olympic Trials cut on June 17th, 3 days before the close of qualifying, at the Speedo Summer Sizzler Invitational. There, she swam a 25.96 in the 50 free. Her older sister Alex (then 14) had already qualified, so the family would’ve already been planning a trip to Trials anyway, so Gretchen raced to 125th place in the 50 free after her last-minute qualification.
  • Katharine Berkoff – at 15, Berkoff swam her first Olympic Trials cut at the 2016 Federal Way Sectionals meet in the 200 back. She swam 2:15.40, which bettered the standard of 2:16.59. At that meet, she also picked up a cut in the 100 back with a time of 1:03.01. At Trials, she was almost the same time in the 200 back (2:15.55 – 5oth place) but dropped nearly a second in the 100 back (1:02.18) to finish 36th out of 155 swimmers.
  • Phoebe Bacon – at 13, she swam a 1:03.19 in the 100 back at NCSAs to earn her first Olympic Trials cut. The cut that year was 1:03.39. That was her only Trials swim (though she also swam a time trial). Like the vast majority of swimmers at the Olympic Trials, she added almost 2 seconds to finish 83rd out of 155 swimmers. This season, Bacon ranks 4th in the world (and 3rd in the U.S.) in the 100 back in 58.63.

Late 2016 Olympic Trials Qualifiers – Men

Note: the Total Qualifiers row is based on individuals, not qualifying swims, so that’s not a “sum” of the rows above it.

Event Qualifiers As of 6/18/2016 Qualifiers as of 3/12/2016 “Late” Qualifiers
50 free 195 162 33
100 free 106 94 12
200 free 135 114 21
400 free 145 128 17
1500 free 112 99 13
100 fly 150 118 32
200 fly 102 89 13
100 breast 160 122 38
200 breast 125 102 23
100 back 139 121 18
200 back 216 179 37
200 IM 127 115 12
400 IM 120 104 16
Total Qualifiers 1,020 830 190

Among the late qualifiers on the men’s side:

  • Drew Kibler – Then 16, Kibler hit his first cut in the 50 free on May 20th at the Indiana Early Bird Senior meet. He swam 23.08 to cut the standard of 23.29. Later at that meet, he also hit the Trials standard in the 200 free (1:51.00) and 100 back (56.78). At Trials, he swam lifetime bests in the 200 free (1:50.01 – 33rd place) and 50 free (23.05 – 47th place), while adding a little time in the 100 back (57.20 – 102nd place).
  • Max McHugh – At 16, Mchugh was toying with the Olympic Trials cut in the 100 breaststroke in April, but just barely missed it. By June, though, he swam 1:03.60 at a local Wisconsin club meet on the 5th, which slid .09 seconds under the standard. He was the fastest 100 breaststroker in the NCAA in the 2019-2020 season.
  • Jake Foster – At 15, the older of the Foster brothers, Jake got his cut in the 200 breast on March 31st at the Geneva, Wisconsin Sectionals meet. He swam 2:17.15, which was well under the 2:18.39 standard. That wound up being his only Trials swim, and he added a second to finish in 42nd place in 2:18.21.
  • Carson Foster – At 14, on June 3rd, at the Ohio Spring into Summer meet, Foster had a breakout swim, touching in 4:27.11 in the 400 IM. That meet, which was held in a sprint yards/meters format, saw him mark a number of lifetime bests, but none as significant as that 400 IM where he dropped 6.8 seconds off his best time. At the Olympic Trials, he added just over half-a-second to swim 4:27.74 and place 43rd in his only swim.


In total, in 2016, there were 334 new qualifiers for the Olympic Trials in the period that has now been lost in 2020. Additionally, there were 617 new qualifying swims, from both new qualifiers and prior qualifiers hitting new standards.

Put another way, that’s about 29 hours of swimming at the Olympic Trials lost (in terms of swimmer-minutes), or about 3 hours of time saved in “meet time,” which comes out to about 25 minutes per session.

There are some tradeoffs here. There are a handful of swimmers who are qualified for the 2021 Trials that won’t race – either because of retirement due to the delay, or injuries. The cuts are also faster (see how much faster here), so it’s likely that maybe the number of late qualifiers for 2020 would have been lower than 2016.

In either case, the number is about 300. That’s about how many USA Swimming, if the goal is to simply ‘recreate the lost history’ of the spring of 2020 in terms of Olympic Trials qualifiers, should be shooting for.

The big mystery here is how to do that. Nobody knows yet when the sport will resume, and when it does, nobody really knows how long it’s going to take swimmers to get back on track. Swimming hasn’t always been a 12-months-a-year sport, but there’s not much expertise on training a modern swimmer to that level after a 2-month layoff, so there’s going to be a lot of trial and error going on.


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1 year ago

Don’t forget the added 1500 for women and 800 for men.

1 year ago

Um McHugh did not win the 100 breast at NCAAs in 2019. Ian Finnerty did

1 year ago

Here’s an idea: USA Swimming decides how many athletes they want at the meet for men & women. Then they look at how many more athletes they are allowed to have qualify. For example, maybe there are 200 more spots on the men’s side and 220 on the women (these are completely arbitrary). Then USA swimming could:

Fill those remaining spots by an equal amount per event. So they may decide they want 15 more qualifiers in each event. Then they would literally just select the top 15 athletes per event who have not previously qualified in that event. This time frame would go from when meets start again until maybe 2 weeks before trials. They could also choose to… Read more »

Reply to  JCO
1 year ago

Also SwimSwam could have a weekly “Who’s In and Who’s Out” article that would be really fun to follow for the months leading up to Trials

Reply to  JCO
1 year ago

This is not a bad idea!

Reply to  JCO
1 year ago

The Bubble 2021. Savage!

Almost had it
Reply to  JCO
1 year ago

I completely disagree. Instead of robbing us, the swimmers almost at the cut, which they already have, they are going to pick the +/-15 best times just like that? I understand that the NCAA rolls like that, but that’s an every year thing and they’ve been doing it that way for who knows how long. That format for trials wouldn’t work for the majority because it doesnt show who really wants it. Some people are gifted and may be in the top 15 but doesn’t work for it and may perform lower than that of someone who has worked their butt of and had it snatched 1 week from go time. I just don’t find it fair. You said do… Read more »

Almost had it 4 years ago
Reply to  Almost had it
1 year ago

People “really want it” all the time and don’t get it. Life’s unfair, deal.

About Braden Keith

Braden Keith

Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder of He first got his feet wet by building The Swimmers' Circle beginning in January 2010, and now comes to SwimSwam to use that experience and help build a new leader in the sport of swimming. Aside from his life on the InterWet, …

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