The Last Word (or Two) on the U.S.’s 2023 World Championships Selection Procedure

The opinions of this author do not necessarily reflect the opinions of SwimSwam

Hopefully, this will be the last article on the subject as all of our collective attention swings from the results of U.S. Nationals to the upcoming World Championships.

The honest truth of the matter is that this meet (the 2023 Summer Nationals as a selection meet), without the interruption of the pandemic, would never have happened, and as such its selection criteria is wholly unique.

In the year leading up to the Olympics, the U.S. has tended to eschew from holding selection meets. The 2019 Worlds team was selected from results from the 2018 National Champs and Pan-Pacs team. The 2015 Worlds team was the same way, selecting from the 2014 National Champs and Pan-Pacs team. Ditto for the 2011 Worlds Team.

While there have been summer national meets in those years, they all occurred after the World Championships, generally in August.

If the pandemic did not happen, then Michael Andrew would be on the team, based on his 100 breaststroke results from 2022, so the order of priorities would be moot. On the flip side, that would mean potentially no Thomas Heilman, no Jillian Cox, no Dare Rose, no Henry McFadden, no Lydia Jacoby, and no Abbey Weitzeil.

Comments in the past have lambasted this selection procedure. Picking a team more than 12 months out doesn’t allow for the younger crop of swimmers to test their mettle against the established swimmers. Just look at the number of young swimmers who benefited from the Olympic team being selected in 2021 as opposed to 2020.

Toronto 2015 Pan American Games – Kelsi Worrell 100 fly (photo: Chris Tanouye)

Yes, the pandemic disrupted training schedules for all and might not be a great barometer, but there is other evidence to support this.

At the 2014 Nationals, Kelsi Dahlia (then Worrell) placed 6th in the 100 fly and Katie Meili placed 5th in the 100 breast. Both were not selected for the 2015 Worlds Team but instead earned a spot on the 2015 Pan-Ams team, where they each ended up winning individual golds in their respective events.

At Pan-Ams, the two also swam on the 4×100 medley relay alongside Natalie Coughlin and Allison Schmitt. Their time of 3:56.53 was faster than US Women’s time at the 2015 World (3:56.76), but the improvement would still have left the US team in 4th place behind China, Sweden, and Australia.

In the individual 100s, Pan-Ams does not have semi-finals and therefore it is not a direct comparison to Worlds, but both Worrell and Meili would have been the sole U.S. representative in their respective finals. Worrell would have placed 6th (57.75) in the final (the top American was 11th-place Kendyl Stewart in 58.14).  Meili’s 1:06.26 would have finished 2nd at Worlds behind only the 1:05.66 Russian Yuliya Efimova posted. The U.S.’s top finisher in the 100 breast was Jessica Hardy who finished in 10th in a time of 1:07.22.

Now what is the purpose of bringing this up? Simply answered, there is no perfect selection criteria. Yes, the 2022 Worlds selection criteria had the winners of the non-Olympic Events as Priority 3 and this year it appeared as Priority 5, but as stated at the top, this was the first selection meet for a Worlds team during a year preceding the Olympics in over a decade, and therefore is difficult to compare to past selection meets. Regardless of what the selection criteria is (or what order it is in), all U.S. swimmers competing for the team are held to the same standard. The U.S. does not have a mechanism for discretion selection to the team roster, unlike some of its rivals.

And while the U.S.’s criteria, especially this year, may seem to downplay the non-Olympic events, when compared to other nations’ selection procedures the U.S. is head and shoulders above.

The U.S.’s neighbor to the north, Canada, makes no room for the winners of the stroke 50s. Per their selection criteria, under III.1.a. “Only performances in Olympic Events are eligible for selection purposes.”

Down under, Australia also makes no room for direction selection of the winners of the stroke 50s. Their criteria states, under 5.(b), “The National Head Coach will determine which, if any, members of the Team will compete in the non-Olympic events at their absolute discretion. Any decision made by the Team Head Coach regarding the Non-Olympic Events specified in clause 5(a) is not capable of being appealed either under the SA Appeal Charter or otherwise”.

Across the Pond, British Swimming makes even less room for the 50s. Per their selection procedure, the team can only have a max of 30 swimmers and only the 1st place finisher in individual Olympic events will be selected, as long as their time equaled or bettered the British Swimming qualifying time. After the meet has concluded the remaining roster spots are filled at the discretion of the Head Coach and Performance Director.

As an aside, SwimSwam reported back in January that some of those times were faster than the British national records. Comparing some of them to U.S. Nationals times, no one in the final of the men’s 100 free would have qualified; Jack Alexy won in 47.93 and the standard was 47.60. Carson Foster’s winning 200 fly time of 1:54.32 is a tenth slower than the British qualifying time. Ditto for Luke Hobson and David Johnston in the 200 and 400 free. For any of these swimmers to have made the Worlds, team they would have had to qualify in a different event or been selected by the Head Coach and Performance Director.

While this article is by no means showing support for the change in U.S. selection procedures, fans of Team USA should realize that they could have a much more convoluted selection process. Hopefully, this article helps assuage some readers’ concerns about the 2023 team, but one highly suspects that when the 2024 selection criteria are published there will be an even louder cacophony of comments regarding them. After all, the 2024 Worlds conflicts with most college conference championships and is less than four months from the U.S. Olympic Trials.

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4 months ago

Nice article, thanks! Agree that no process is ever perfect, and the pandemic thrown in there allowed for more adjustments. Compared to many other countries, it’s overall not too bad here.

4 months ago

So basically, “you have the right to complain but our selection process is pretty awesome already so don’t”? But didn’t we have a better one just last year?

Reply to  Justhereforfun
4 months ago

Also, I don’t really understand why we need to change selection procedures when it is the year before the olympics, 50-stroke swimmers already don’t have the opportunity to race those events at the olympics, and now their chances of competing during the year before the olympics is further damaged as well? What is left for them is the year after the olympics and that’s it? (FINA events)

Last edited 4 months ago by Justhereforfun
Reply to  Justhereforfun
4 months ago

I think the idea is to give more people who might qualify in Olympic events a chance to get international team experience before the Olympics.

4 months ago

If I knew a perfect selection criteria, I’d brag about it right now. I wish MA and Claire Curzan had made it — both missed out due to odd reasons hopefully not repeated. On a positive note, here are some of my all-world favorite swimmers: (1) Katie Ledecky (2) Michael Andrew (3) Claire Curzan (from NC !) (4) Summer McIntosh. (5) Leon Marchand. … and many more! On another note, here are some of my least favorite swimmers: (I have a small few, but keeping to myself. No poetry, and no negative remarks, might make for a better comment.)

4 months ago

Do we know when the other three international team rosters will be released/or predicted rosters?

4 months ago

Selecting a team a year in advance is another misstep by USA Swimming. Completely illogical.

Reply to  bubo
4 months ago

Exactly. Can you imagine Dressel and MA having to take the blocks in the 100 fly for the USA based on last year’s results (although Dressel probably would have ceded his spot after last year, but the point still stands).

4 months ago

The 2024 worlds selection procedure will be top times in each event by the end of this calendar year

Reply to  MrBreaststroke
4 months ago

This sounds like a reasonable option. And anyone who doesn’t want to go would decline, and they would go down to the next eligible swimmer (provided they meet the FINA A)

4 months ago

Ugh 2024 Worlds is such a mistake. They’re supposed to be two years apart, yet we’re having them three years in a row, with the last of the three in an Olympic year, just four months from Trials, and 7 months after the previous WC. Add in the short-course WCs and the fatigue and dilution is out of control.

Michael Andrew will make that team because no one else will bother going. But also, no one will be watching.

Reply to  Greg
4 months ago

I agree 👍🏼🎉

Reply to  Greg
4 months ago

I was in vigorous agreement with your comment – until you threw in the needless MA hate at the end.

Reply to  Greg
4 months ago

The 2024 World Aquatics Championships should have been rescheduled to 2025.

I seriously wonder how many post graduates will want to double taper in an Olympic year.

Reply to  Greg
4 months ago

it will be a silly meet but also I will definitely still be watching it