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.
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.