Following this week’s announcement that 2018 Summer Nationals will not count for 2020 Olympic Trials qualification, we caught up with USA Swimming Chief Operating Officer Mike Unger for more information on the shortened qualifying period.
“The last couple of Trials have been quite large,” Unger said. “We had over 1800 back in 2012 and 1750 in 2016.” Unger also noted that the qualifiers numbered over 1900, with some of the qualifiers ultimately not competing. “We want a large Trials, but those numbers are too large.”
Unger says the meet and facility strained to accommodate a competing group that large – even just finding seating for athletes and coaches to watch the meet.
USA Swimming has frequently expressed its ideal of 1200 to 1400 athletes competing at Olympic Trials. That’s where the meet was at in 2000 and 2008, says Unger, though it has exploded in size in the Olympic cycles since. Here are some rough numbers Unger shared for Olympic Trial participants at the last 7 Olympic Trial meets:
“We want kids and coaches to make the meet,” Unger said. “The person that gets 114th place in the women’s 100 backstroke at one Trials may be in the final at the next Trials.
“We’re not trying to cut out that 114th-place person. We are trying to cut out the 168th-place person.”
Unger said USA Swimming’s decision to shorten the qualifying window was made, in part, because it shouldn’t impact many potential finalists or semifinalists. Swimmers who qualify for Olympic Trials two years out, then don’t hit the qualifying time again, are historically longshots to qualify for a second swim at Trials, Unger says.
“If you haven’t re-done the time standard, it’s extraordinarily rare for you to come back and actually qualify for a final or a semifinal,” Unger said. “We have to remember that this meet is about picking the best possible team we can pick for the Olympic Games. While the experience of that person who gets 110th place is important, it’s not as important as making sure we have the best team possible in Tokyo.”
Other key notes:
- Unger said USA Swimming already had a rough idea of its Olympic Trials qualifying times, but that this summer’s nationwide results would also factor in to the final time standards.
- Expect the Olympic Trial qualifying times to come out in early September – Unger said USA Swimming is considering releasing the time standards as part of a live webcast as they did for the 2016 Trials, but that decision hasn’t yet been finalized.
- While an Olympic Trials meet with lots of qualifiers tends to sell lots of tickets to family and friends coming to watch swimmers they know, Unger said ticket sales to locals – people from Omaha or in Omaha who didn’t necessarily travel there specifically to watch the swim meet – have risen steadily over the last three Trials. Unger also said about half the total tickets sold sell within the first few months they are on sale, and those are typically bought not by parents or friends of swimmers, but by “swimming aficionados” who want to experience the Trials atmosphere first-hand.
- While 2018 Summer Nationals won’t count for qualifying, athletes will have three other national-level chances to qualify: Unger noted that 2018 Winter Nationals have been changed to long course meters, and said that 2019 Winter Nationals will also be long course, as USA Swimming typically does the year before the Olympics. That’s in addition to 2019 Summer Nationals.
Addendum: Alcohol Sale Guidelines Not a Change From Existing Policy
The other big news to come out last week involved the minutes of a USA Swimming Board of Directors meeting from February in which a task force presented guidelines for the sale of alcohol at senior-level swim meets. While the task force itself was only assembled in the fall of 2017, Unger said that the guidelines themselves had largely been a part of the organization for years.
Unger says alcohol has been sold at USA Swimming events dating back to 2004, and that the task force presentation in February was merely “re-emphasizing” the organization’s guidelines for the sale of alcohol. Unger said he wasn’t part of the task force and didn’t know if all the guidelines were reiterating old policies or if there were any new additions to organization policy, but said the presentation didn’t constitute a decision by USA Swimming to start selling alcohol where it previously hadn’t.
“It looked like there was this big decision was made,” Unger said of the meeting minutes. “There was no big decision made.”