Tough Cut: Why Olympic Times for France Are So Fast

After just one day of the 2016 French Elite Nationals, there is already plenty of griping about the Olympic times set by French swimming. Setting qualifying standards for any competition is one of the most complex endeavors a National Federation can undertake. What seems simple on the surface (times are times) is so much more than that- every qualifying time has a life of its own, a story, a psychology factor.

Take for example Lara Grangeon’s French record breaking 400 IM from yesterday. Despite chopping off a second and putting up a time that would have qualified for the final at last summer’s World Championship, Grangeon will not qualify. There is a good justification for the tough standard, and Grangeon stands a good chance to be selected on a subjective basis. Consider for a moment what kind of psychological impact it will have if she doesn’t.

What are up and coming French talents supposed to think if Grangeon stays home? Will they believe the Olympic dream is possible for them? Negativity can easily roll downhill. Coaches, doing their jobs and trying to get their athletes every opportunity possible, can often compound this negativity.

It is up to federations to hold the line despite this risk. There are only two countries (perhaps three) that can rely on their internal competition to produce competitive pairs in all events. Countries like France operate in a strange space between the world powers in swimming and the little fish. They have too much history to send athletes to the Olympics just for the experience.

In fact, taken in that light it’s quite generous of French swimming to set the qualifying bar in the 400 IM at 4:35. This is still well short of what it will take to medal in Rio (4:31 or so seems likely), and medals are what they are seeking.

The federation must contend with the fact that there is a huge chasm between the competitiveness between French Elite Nationals and the Olympics. Grangeon was able to swim six seconds slower than her record time in prelims and still qualify first. Of course this is the right move in the situation of this specific meet. But in the grander context, it’s hardly good preparation for the Olympics to loaf your way through a preliminary swim.

France has specifically made preliminary and semi-final swimming a factor in their criteria to combat this. While there were similar complaints about tough qualifying standards four years ago, France ended up with a very effective small squad that won four gold medals. That total was third only behind China and America. The French squad was tough enough as a result to avenge their Beijing 4×100 free relay defeat to the Americans.

So as the weekend goes on, don’t cry for the French swimmers who are seemingly chasing impossible times. If they fail, they were unlikely to have an impact in Rio, and if they succeed they will be better prepared for the challenge ahead.


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Terry Turner

The Olympics is treated in this way by any national federation wanting to be taken seriously. Unfortunately setting stretching targets I feel is in fact the easiest thing they ever do. Contrary to Chris my opinion is that finding, nurturing and delivering athletes capable of swimming those times is actually the role of thew National Federation – Being unable to deliver on that basis is an acknowledgement of their ineptitude, it they were football managers we’d see a different outcome.

bobo gigi

That system is put in place to send in Rio only athletes who can make a final there. Which is weird is that 6 men and 6 women can still be “saved” even if they failed to swim the standards. I heard that precision on the TV broadcast yesterday. I knew there would be swimmers who could be saved but I didn’t know the rules. The national team director will look at the results and will save the swimmers who are under the margin of saving based on a percentage of time over the standard. I don’t know if you understood me well. 🙂 That idea of saving people is weird. If you ask high-quality times to do, go through… Read more »

Coach Mike 1952

When the French fans feel like the air is sucked out of the room after virtually every swim since no one qualifies, what popular purpose does that serve? Perhaps our resident Frenchman Bobo Gigi can comment on these questions (please): what are the real politics going on here? Is it a cost-cutting measure? A face-saving tactic? For how long has this practice been going on? Certainly there must be other ways to prepare athletes for Olympic-level performances than to have a brutal qualifying meet, because brutal is what it is. Also, in the haste for medals, let us not forget what the Olympics are intended to be – international fraternity & sorority. The focus has become so much on medal-level… Read more »


I wish Australia’s QT for W400im was that . It is only 4.38 which is International Bminus time. If our girls sneak by that & smooch around in their rather fetching preppy blazers & white homeless skirt , it will be fools olympics. 2 have been low 4 36 in the past but need that extra push to get 4.35 (preferably minus ) which itself is still a B time. 4.33 is where it really ought be (if we were like France) but we have had big problems with this event. I hope they get there & lobby for a knee length tube shirt with a side split.. If Australia’s young girls see how nice their legs are with all… Read more »


Yes, AUS QT seem, overall, to be a tad softer than FRA/GBR and in a number of events could do with being distinctly tougher. AUS officials still seem to be caught in a mentality of wanting to send a “full team” and consequently have the perennial issue of “tourists” (ie those who always swim the QT at Trials but never replicate in the major international event). However, the salutary lesson of another London result sheet (which may well be on the cards) …… and the likely post-Olympics slashing of federal sports funding may see them take a much more realistic and hard-nosed approach to team sizes. In response to Wierdo’s comment below; the fact is that the FINA A times… Read more »


Oh yeah that quadannualbboompahlah panoramic pic of 50 ppl in yellow polo shirts. I don’t think Rio will be as bad as London .For some reason everyone wanted to go there even ppl who had no hope whatsoever of getting out of the heats. I can forgive them being depressed because of the forced stay in Manchester -unless you were an Industrial Revolution buff -it would be the pits. But they mostly paid their penance -being sent to Manchester again in 2014. By then one could take the underground pre industrial stream tour again if you were a history buff . If not again -horrible. I think much will depend on where they do their staging camp & even how… Read more »


I must proffer that things have vastly improved at SwAust. If it were the last lot of Anglophiles they would have staged the Rio training camp in the Falklands.


Actually, the AUS Olympic team is heading for a much tougher time than London !! If you believe in cycles then every 40 years, AUS has a catastrophically bad one (1936 Berlin, 1976 Montreal). Whilst I don’t think it will be THAT bad, it may be along the lines of Moscow or Seoul if swimming and cycling don’t deliver. The government will not come to the rescue ala post Montreal and corporate dollars disappear so this may be the very last of the bloated 400+ teams ……. and that may be a very good thing. NZL, even in their most powerful sports like rowing and sailing, concentrate their efforts in certain areas rather than spreading it across the board. AUS… Read more »

About Chris DeSantis

Chris DeSantis

Chris DeSantis is a swim coach, writer and swimming enthusiast. Chris does private consulting and coaching with teams and individuals. You can find him at Chris is a 2009 Graduate from the Masters of Applied Positive Psychology program at the University of Pennsylvania. He was the first professional athletic coach …

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