SwimSwam Pulse is a recurring feature tracking and analyzing the results of our periodic A3 Performance Polls. You can cast your vote in our newest poll on the SwimSwam homepage, about halfway down the page on the right side, or you can find the poll embedded at the bottom of this post.
Our most recent poll asked SwimSwam readers how USA Swimming should handle Olympic Trials in a pandemic:
Question: What should USA Swimming adjust for the 2021 Olympic Trials in response to the pandemic?
- Split up the men’s and women’s events – 36.1%
- Further limit the number of athletes per event – 31.7%
- Hold prelims at multiple sites – 14.0%
- Nothing – 13.3%
- Something else – 4.9%
A little more than a third of voters favored splitting U.S. Olympic Trials by gender, though 31% favored further limiting athlete numbers.
Amid the coronavirus pandemic, swim meet have had to trim back their traditional fields to avoid large group gatherings. With the Tokyo Olympics still scheduled for this summer, USA Swimming will have to decide whether or not to adjust its traditional Olympic Trials meet, which has included more than 1700 athletes in each of the past two Olympic cycles.
USA Swimming was already trying to pare down those numbers before the coronavirus pandemic hit, shortening its qualifying window. But the pandemic delayed the Olympics (and Olympic Trials) for a full year, opening the qualifying window longer than anticipated. And in a meet that, by design, brings together athletes from all regions of the country, a large group gathering presents a significant challenge under current pandemic health and safety protocols.
36.1% of voters suggested splitting up into separate sites for women’s events and men’s events. That would effectively cut the meet size in half, but would also put coaches who have both women’s and men’s qualifiers in a tough position.
Our poll was a close finish, with 31.7% of voters suggesting USA Swimming further trim down the number of athletes invited in each event. That’s the route Swimming Canada took, inviting just 20 swimmers per event to compete at its Olympic selection meet in April. Doing so would deprive some (or perhaps many) current Olympic Trials qualifiers of a chance to compete at the meet, which is a career highlight for many swimmers. And some argue that it would hurt USA Swimming in the long run, with potential 2024 and 2028 Olympians missing out on valuable experience racing in an Olympic Trials this year.
On the other hand, this method would also probably cut the meet down to the most manageable size. History suggests it wouldn’t have a major impact on the final Olympic roster, as very few Olympic qualifiers typically come from outside the top 20 seeds heading into the meet. And a smaller meet would probably be a better setting for the top USA athletes, who would have more space to warm up and cool down, and wouldn’t be exposed to as many other athletes who could be carrying COVID-19.
14% suggested holding heats at multiple different sites, with the top 8 or 16 qualifiers coming together for finals and semifinals at one combined site. That presents some major logistical hurdles (finding a host city with multiple relatively-equal facilities to ensure fairness between sites, splitting up entrants into various sites) and would also still expose finals qualifiers to more athletes, perhaps raising the chance of COVID-19 exposure. On the other hand, it would allow for more athletes to get the ‘Trials experience’ without bringing together 1700+ athletes in one facility for multiple days.
13.3% said no changes should be made. With Olympic Trials coming in June, there’s a chance the pandemic sees some significant improvement by that point, depending on the nationwide vaccination effort. But that’s also the most optimistic view of a pandemic that is still nowher near under control in the United States.
4.9% suggested some other change to the Olympic Trials format. There’s an option of breaking prelims into flights, with the top seeds competing early and the lower seeds coming into the facility later and swimming in the afternoon. A more drastic approach would be scrapping the concept of a Trials meet entirely and selecting the team based on best times over a qualifying period. And one more model has suggested running a very small Olympic selection meet (like the 31.7% suggested), but also holding a second national-level meet later in the summer or fall for the “Trials experience” for lower-ranked qualifiers.
Below, vote in our new A3 Performance Poll, which asks voters which of this week’s two Pro Swim Series sites they’re more excited to follow:
The A3 Performance Poll is courtesy of A3 Performance, a SwimSwam partner