Only 18% of Swimmers in Wave I Meet Improved Seed Time

The U.S. Olympic Trials is a peak example of athletes “happy just to be there.” For a large majority of swimmers, just qualifying for the meet is an accomplishment. Their training is geared toward qualifying for the meet and not necessarily to swim faster in Omaha. Historically we have seen 75% and more of swimmers actually swim slower than their seed time at Olympic Trials. 

The data is in for Wave I of the Olympic Trials and shows a continued trend of most swimmers swimming slower over their seed times. Overall, 18.3% of swimmers swam faster than their seed time in prelims last week in Omaha. This figure is right in line with the results from the (single Wave) results in 2016 where 18% of swimmers in prelims were faster than their seed.

Splitting up the numbers by gender, the women showed a slight improvement from four years ago as 15.6% improved versus 14% in 2016. The men performed a bit worse as 20.5% improved their seed time versus 22% in 2016. We do not have a complete set of data from 2012, but looking at two sessions, the numbers were in the 23% to 25% range of swimmers that were faster than their seed time.

There were two events that had no swimmers improve upon their seed time: the women’s 200 freestyle and the men’s 800 freestyle. There were three events that had a 33% improvement from the seed time: the women’s 200 backstroke, the men’s 1500 freestyle, and the men’s 400 IM.

There are a few caveats with these numbers. The statistics from last week are not an even comparison due to the split nature of this year’s meet. We also do not have the numbers from 2016 to see how the lowest 90 seeded swimmers performed to provide a better comparison.

It can be theorized that the numbers from Wave I are actually higher than they normally would have been. The lower-seeded swimmers at the Wave I meet had a double incentive: a much better chance to earn a second swim and the opportunity to qualify for the Wave II meet. 

A breakdown of the Wave I Meet by event:

Event Women Men
50 Free 11/61 (18.0%) 16/94 (17.0%)
100 Free 7/25 (28.0%) 3/27 (11.1%)
200 Free 0/16 (0.0%) 3/10 (30.0%)
400 Free 1/20 (5.0%) 3/24 (12.5%)
800 Free 3/10 (30.0%) 0/10 (0.0%)
1500 Free 1/6 (16.7%) 4/12 (33.3%)
100 Back 6/46 (13.0%) 12/60 (20.0%)
200 Back 6/18 (33.3%) 10/37 (27.0%)
100 Breast 4/52 (7.7%) 18/85 (21.2%)
200 Breast 5/28 (17.9%) 8/35 (22.9%)
100 Fly 6/38 (15.8%) 8/39 (20.5%)
200 Fly 6/38 (15.8%) 6/25 (24.0%)
200 IM 3/23 (13.0%) 5/19 (26.3%)
400 IM 3/17 (17.6%) 5/15 (33.3%)
Total by gender 62/398 (15.6%) 101/492 (20.5%)
Overall Total 163/890 (18.3%)  


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1 year ago

Many of the swimmers who finished top-2 are not even going to Wave 2. We need to once again make Olympic Trials about making the Olympic Team. It has become a participation trophy event for 75% of the qualifiers.

1 year ago

These two waves were a great solution for our current Covid situation. Can we “right size” it for Paris 2024 with a good Summer Nationals later in the summer that has a longer summer season with more swimmers swimming heats and finals?

Wave 1.5 Qualifier
1 year ago

The events with the most statistical power probably best represent reality:
M 50Fr (94): 17.0%
M 100 Br (85): 21.2%
W 50 Fr (61): 18.0%
M 100 Bk (60): 20.0%

When you only have 10-20 in the event in prelims, that may have impacted the prelims effort.

Reply to  Wave 1.5 Qualifier
1 year ago

The by-event breakdown numbers includes finals. So if you were seeded 1:02.0, swam a 1:02.3 in prelims, but a 1:01.6 in finals that’s improving on seed and counts as 1/1 … but if you still swam a 1:02.1 in finals, that’s 0/1. In other words, I counted you as improving on seed if any of your swims improved on seed.

1 year ago

When so many of the wave 1 swimmers had to do a full taper to make the cut, this finding isn’t really surprising. The value is the experience gained and optimistically that will hold those swimmers in good stead in three years when they hopefully will have made the cuts by the preceding summer.

Last edited 1 year ago by Oldmanswimmer
1 year ago

The time period used for the seed times was longer for this Olympic Trials than in 2016, right?

1 year ago

This was a surprise to me. I thought a greater percentage of swimmers would swim faster than their seed times.

Reply to  A C
1 year ago

Yeah, me too!

Reply to  A C
1 year ago

makes sense to me that this is in line with past Trials. I think we’ll see a better instance of improvement vs. seed in wave 2 since there are going to be more people who don’t have to fully taper to qualify. I’d bet that most/all of the seeds in wave 1 were full taper, lifetime-best-to-qualify type times, while Lochte is seeded with a 1:50 in the 200 free and will almost certainly be faster.

1 year ago

The performance from wave 1 is pretty normal for a lot of people at trials every 4 years. If you look back, you’ll see there’s always a bunch of people who miss the cut at the meet/add time due to getting their cut in the months before (so they can’t properly re-taper).

The only difference this year is that they have their own meet, so the time adds are easier to notice (since their Trials results are usually not publicized on swimswam as much due to the focus being on semifinal and final qualifiers).

small bird
1 year ago

these pools are too long. 50.5m is what the rumors are saying. swimmers are feeling it. no ones talking about it.

Reply to  small bird
1 year ago


Go Hop
Reply to  small bird
1 year ago

I swam in the pool and it didn’t feel long. If the pool were actually long, we wouldn’t see any personal bests.

Reply to  small bird
1 year ago

I would like to think it has been Fina certified…

Young Swammer
Reply to  small bird
1 year ago

.5 extra meters is a lot for there not to be any widespread talk of it. Swimmers, coaches, and officials would all notice it, and there would be significant signs of this extra length in all of the times, which there weren’t. Do you really think whoever built the pool would have just left it at 50.5? Do you think USA Swimming would have gone along with their error and just ignored such a blatant issue? No one’s talking about it because it’s simply not true

Last edited 1 year ago by Young Swammer
Cousin Eddie
Reply to  Young Swammer
1 year ago

The pool is not long. Most of these swimmers have never been to trials and stress is real. Many are there for the experience,

The pool is shallow and thus potentially “slow” compared to some deeper pools. It also is above sea level so in theory the racers from the coasts could feel that?

In the end. It’s a lot to achieve your dream and get i. This stage. Lights are on you. Officials dressed like chefs are the only ones on deck. No bags to be seen. And a ton of seats. Music blasting etc. it’s a lot to jump in and go a best time with the nerves all amped up.

Reply to  Cousin Eddie
1 year ago

To have any significant impact at all on blood oxygen volume the elevation would need to be at least 3,000ft.

Reply to  small bird
1 year ago

If the pool were long, there would be the least best times in the longest events. The data showed the opposite.

Reply to  small bird
1 year ago

thanks for the laugh!