Swimming Australia Shake-up: Olympic Trials Moves To American Model

While competing at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, the United States saw its best overall medal haul since the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, while the nation of Australia suffered its worst Summer Olympic outing since claiming just 27 medals in Barcelona back in 1992. Despite being pegged to earn a top 5 finish among nations in Rio by its national Sports Commission, Australia nabbed just 29 medals to finish 10th in the overall standings.

Specific to the swimming squad, the Australian team carried with it into Rio current World Record Holder and the fastest 100m freestyle ever in a textile suit in Cate Campbell and Cameron McEvoy, yet both were medal-less in their individual events at the end of the meet. Emily Seebohm, Mitch Larkin and Bronte Campbell were all double World Champions in 2015, yet brought home just one individual silver medal among them. Pegged to win anywhere from 8 to 11 gold medals in Rio, the Australian pool contingency swam away with just 3.

Since the Olympics, the Australian Olympic Committee, as well as Swimming Australia specifically, have been undertaking a wide study of sorts, trying to identify what can be improved to align results with expectations come Tokyo 2020. One item targeted early on the swimming side of things was the potential altering of the timing of Australia’s Olympic Swimming Trials.

In 2016, as in years past, Australian timing involved Olympic Trials happening in April, a good 3 1/2 months ahead of the start of the Games. However, the fact that the United States carried away so much success from Rio with their team trials occurring just a month out from the start of the Games, some down under began looking to that model as one to apply to Australia.  After months of review, Swimming Australia has decided to pull the trigger on the change, moving its Trials for benchmark events, such as World Championships and the Olympics, to be just 5 weeks away from the main events.

“Our rationale behind the trials shift is to create ‘more and significant competition’ leading into our benchmark events,” said Australian Head Coach Jacco Verhaeren.

“This change will result in consistent racing in the months leading up to trials. Our system has been structured around the southern hemisphere summer, we now have facilities in warmer places and are able to host our trials closer to the benchmark events which are typically during a northern hemisphere summer.

“The majority of coaches and the people from within the system are actually very supportive, otherwise we would not have been able to achieve it. All these decisions have been made in close consultation with the coaches and that’s how it should be.”

An additional byproduct of this meet shift is a widening of the gap between NCAA Championships, the final meet of USA’s collegiate system, and an Australian Olympic Trials.  With the NCAA Championship meet held in mid to late March, an Australian Olympic Trials was typically just a couple of weeks later, leaving would-be NCAA Aussie dual athletes wanting to avoid the conflict all-together. With a months-long gap now, may we see more Australian athletes prone to joining the NCAA system? Time will tell.

Swimming Australia also announced that its Podium Centre Program will be reduced from 14 to now 9 High Performance Centers. This will result in high performance funding stretching further, yet the standard of the daily performance environment for athletes and coaches, as well as expectation on the centers, will increase.

Swimming Australia CEO Mark Anderson commented, “We are looking forward to this next phase in our high performance evolution. We have made considerable progress, both as an organisation and as an internationally competitive and respected team and importantly we have major alignment right across our sport.

“But we are far from satisfied. We always planned to make further changes in this Olympic cycle and the review has identified further changes that we need to make to ensure that we continue to progress and achieve excellence.

“We are united in delivering this next phase of improvement leading into the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games and the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

“We have the right people in the right roles and with all the key individuals in place at the start of the Olympic and Paralympic cycle, and just over 12 months out from the Commonwealth Games, we will be well placed to take the next required step to deliver on our goals,” Anderson said.

You can read the Swimming Australia Four-Year Tokyo 2020 Plan announcement on its website here.

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4 years ago

I wonder if Canada is next ?

The Screaming Viking!
Reply to  Andrea
4 years ago

I wondered that twice too.

4 years ago

I wonder if Canada is next?

Baker\'s Pearl Earrings
4 years ago

Cant hurt to try. Aussies had months between trials and Rio, and their attention was diverted to other things than the Olympics. Meanwhile the Americans almost immediately went to training camp after trials. 1 month of focusing on nothing but the Olympics. Of course the downside to a closer trials is the struggle of hitting taper just right

4 years ago

Sounds like a good move. Some Grand Prix type meets during feb, march (incl NCAA champs) , April & May then Age Nationals & Trials in July sounds ideal. Best get in synch with the rest of the world ! Good decision SA.

Reply to  Rylo
4 years ago

Those expecting an instantaneous turn-around are likely to be disappointed as:

1. implementation isn’t likely to start until 2019. Nationals are already set down for Apr this year and they can’t really move it over such a short time frame. Why not 2018 ?? Really they SHOULD’ve but they are still operating under the false premise that the “Toytowns” (which will be held in Apr) are a more significant event than Pan Pacs (where far more of the real world will be present) later in the year.

2. the entire AUS racing season, which due to AUS geographic location, has by necessity been based around the southern hemisphere summer, will now also have to be rearranged. This may take at… Read more »

Reply to  commonwombat
4 years ago

Even though it is frustrating to see Aus swimmers often not be at their peak at Pan Pacs, performing well at the Commonwealth Games is very important to the Australian public (exponentially more so than pan pacs). So obviously the swimmers will be placing a much greater importance on swimming well at the Comm Games. I don’t think anyone could argue the competition is as good, however the medals from the games hold higher value and prestige to Australians.

Reply to  LLSB
4 years ago

Maybe 20 years ago (maybe at a push even a decade ago), I would have agreed but I strongly doubt this to still be the case. TV ratings are much lower; the public appetite for public expenditure on “circuses” is much lower and people now see CG gold as being “fools gold” for the most part given the extremely variable standard of competition in most sports.

IF AUS were to, as I suggest, de-prioritise, CG next year, they may not be the only others to do so. CAN is in a similar situation of having Pan Pacs on the agenda. More importantly, the “Home Nations” (ENG/SCO/WAL/NIR – constituting GBR) also have, what should be, a higher priority for the year… Read more »

Billy E.
4 years ago

This is a huge change to make given the history and success of Australian swimming in the past. It all comes back to the perceived failings of the Rio Olympics and the subsequent evaluations. One consideration that is unique for USA swimming is that their Olympic trials and Olympic games occur in the their summertime. Not so for southern hemisphere countries. Qualifying for the Olympic team in the Australian summer, followed by a sizable training build up through the winter months makes planning sense.

4 years ago

I wish them all the best as they attempt to restructure and reclaim their place on the podium. Btw, Cate Campbell swam great up until that final so clearly there’s more to it than just timing. Having great competitors is what makes the Olympics exciting. So I would love to see them perform on race day.

4 years ago

If this doesn’t work perhaps they’ll reconfigure their pools to measure in yards for the following quad 😉

4 years ago

In my humble opinion, Usa swimming has been hugely successful (particularly at last Olympics, but in general) NORTHELESS the timing of Usa trials, just a month before the main event, not also because of the timing, so late, of its trials.
Far more important to explain the huge leadership of Usa swimming is the vastity of its movement and the winning mentality and cohesion of its teams, particularly at Olympics.
I think that peaking two times in the season, in April and end of July/August, is far more simple for the majority of swimmers. So, I suppose that Great Britain, Canada, japan, China and so on will stick with their trials in April.
Anyway, especially for Australia,… Read more »

Reply to  nuotofan
4 years ago

Whilst I fully agree that this move should NOT be seen as a fix-all solution, AUS Swimming’s situation re Trials timing has essentially been a product of its geographic reality; ie that of being a Southern Hemisphere nation operating on opposite seasons to the overwhelming majority of its major competitors.

The AUS LC competitive season has always been based around the AUS Summer into Autumn with Nationals as late as possible but still close enough to the warm weather period. This movement of Trials WILL necessitate a full re-working of the AUS season; very acheivable in itself but will probably need a year or so to iron out the kinks.

I’ve read reports that this will be instituted for… Read more »

About Retta Race

Retta Race

Swim analyst, businesswoman.

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