With USA Swimming announcing its official National and Junior National Teams for 2014-2015 last week, the biggest question to arise in our comment section was “what does this mean?” Aside from the obvious prestige of being a “U.S. National Teamer,” swimming fans wanted to know what types of support, monetary and otherwise, that the new national teamers had earned.
Fear not, swim fans, because we’ve got you covered. Here are the 7 biggest benefits an athlete gets from qualifying for the American National Team:
1. Monthly Stipends for Top-12 World Rankers
This is one we’ve written about before. USA Swimming offers monthly assistance to athletes ranked near the very top of the world.
The exact number fluctuates: Last year the monthly stipends extended to the swimmers within the top 14 in the world, but as we get further into the Olympic cycle, USA Swimming narrows but increases its stipends. For the next two years, swimmers within the top 12 in the world receive the monthly stipends. After that, things broaden back out to the top 16.
A pretty big number of US swimmers fall into this category. According to National Team Managing Director Lindsay Mintenko, 56 of USA Swimming’s national teamers fell into that top-14 range last season, qualifying for monthly help. This year the number is 44 athletes with the limit being top 12.
Full monthly stipend info here:
But, contrary to popular belief, that’s not the only money available to high-level swimmers:
2. Elite Athlete Grant Program for Top-32 World Rankers
So what happens to athletes who miss the top 12 in the world? USA Swimming also offers an Elite Athlete Grant Program for athletes ranked within the top 32 in the world for the season.
The Elite Athlete Grant Program works on a points system, where athletes earn a particular point value based on their world rank and yearly income. That number is also modified based on NCAA scholarships: For example, a swimmer earning a full NCAA scholarship gains less points than a post-graduate swimmer, with a swimmer on partial scholarship earning a point value somewhere in the middle.
The points correlate to “shares,” whose exact value get determined by how much total money is available that year.
One important point: athletes earning monthly stipends are ineligible for these Elite Athlete Grants, which frees up money for other athletes within the top 32 in the world.
Also of note: you don’t actually have to be a U.S. National Team member to be eligible for this grant. Any athlete ranked in the top 32 in the world, even if he or she wasn’t one of the top 6 Americans, can apply. The bonus to national teamers is that USA Swimming provides its national team with information on how to apply for other grants, not affiliated with USA Swimming.
3. Nationals Meet Reimbursement
U.S. National teamers in this cycle are eligible for reimbursement money to cover the costs of three major meets: 2014 Winter Nationals, 2015 Summer Nationals and 2015 Open Water Nationals. Technically, meet reimbursement is only available to athletes ranked in the top 100 in the world, but for the quick and deep U.S. National team, that’s typically a non-issue.
The exact amount is set on a sliding scale based on world rank:
|FINA world rank||Reimbursement|
4. Elite Athlete Health Insurance
U.S. National teamers are also eligible for Elite Athlete Health Insurance. 56 total spots are set aside for national teamers, with swimmers added based on their national ranks. 4 of those spots are for Open Water swimmers – this time around, it was the top two American men and women finishers at Pan Pacs.
For the pool, 26 spots are available for each gender. The fastest swimmer in each Olympic event is added first, followed by the second-fastest, third-fastest, etc., until both teams are full. Ties are broken by each athlete’s FINA ranking in their second-best event.
5. Grand Prix Meet funding
Here’s where there’s a bit of a divide between young and old on the national team. Post-graduate National Teamers have the option to sign USA Swimming’s Athlete Partnership Agreement. That adds some additional benefits but also requires some things of the athlete. One of those requirements is appearing at three different Grand Prix meets, with each appearance including two full days of swimming.
The trade-off is that in exchange for swimming two full days of the meet, the athlete gets a $600 stipend to cover their travel and other expenses for the meet. That means any prize money won on the circuit (which this season has increased to $1000-$600-$200 for the top three places) is essentially gravy, rather than an offset of meet costs as it is for non-national teamers.
That $600 stipend is also available to college National Teamers, but must go through their school’s compliance office, which will take in the athlete’s receipts from meet expenses to determine how much of the stipend the athlete can accept without it becoming an improper benefit per NCAA rules.
6. Olympic Training Center Access
National Teamers are also eligible to make one trip per year to the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs on USA Swimming’s dime.
Athletes can get up to $500 back to cover their travel expense, and then get their stay at the USOTC covered by USA Swimming. The exact dates have to be worked out in advance, because the trip itself must be approved by the US Olympic Committee, but an athlete and his or her coach can plan a training trip at the facility, which centralizes all aspects of training, with a pool, weight facility, cafeteria and living quarters all in one central, secluded location.
7. Video and massage access at Grand Prixs and Nationals
USA Swimming sends its Sport Performance Consultants to each Grand Prix meet and National Championship meet to provide extra support to National Team members. Maybe you’ve been at a meet and seen the video review station set up – that’s for National Teamers, who can watch videos of their races at the meet and get instant feedback from USA Swimming’s staff before their next race.
In addition, USA Swimming brings a massage therapist to Grand Prix meets plus Winter Nationals, a resource National Teamers can use at any point before or during the meet.
A few other points
Although there is no team apparel officially given just for making the U.S. National Team, most swimmers on the team will get a chance to compete in international competition as a part of a U.S. Team. Those individual meets yield the team apparel, which athletes wear at the event. In this cycle in particular, every athlete on the national team should have a shot to get apparel for one meet or another, with various teams heading to Short Course Worlds, 2015 Long Course Worlds, World University Games and the Pan American Championships during the upcoming year.
National Team athletes also earn some sort of team gift, which varies by year.
It’s worth touching a little further on USA Swimming’s Athlete Partnership Agreement (APA), which is an option post-grad National Teamers can sign. (College athletes or high schoolers planning to compete in the NCAA are not eligible to sign). An athlete must be in the top 12 in the World Ranks to sign the APA, so it’s on par with the monthly stipend, though athletes still get the stipend even if they don’t choose to sign the APA.
The APA requires athletes to fill out various forms, including a seasonal plan with some goals and training plans. The athletes also fill out progress reports during the year to track where they are in relation to their plans and goals.
In addition, there are some event requirements. The Grand Prix circuit, as mentioned above, is a requirement for athletes, who need to appear at three of the Grand Prix’s six meets. APA athletes also must appear at the Golden Goggle Awards (if they are invited) and must make some marketing appearances for USA Swimming. The menu of events ranges from USA Swimming’s Make A Splash events to outside charity appearances to speaking engagements to social media campaigns. In exchange, USA Swimming’s PR team promotes the athlete and the event, and the athlete is reimbursed for travel expenses related to their appearance, among other things.
You can also find more about all of these programs on the USA Swimming website by following this link.
A quick word on the Junior National Team: with the vast majority of Junior National Team members having prospective NCAA career ahead of them, the financial benefits are much harder to work with. Because of this, Junior National Team members do not get the above benefits – the big reward for the Junior National Team is one big training camp during the year which brings the whole team together with a number of high-level coaches.