# What Is The Best Way To Compute Olympic Qualifying Times?

##### by Daniel Takata 6

August 22nd, 2023

Last July, World Aquatics announced the official qualifying procedure for aquatic events at the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris. In swimming, there are two cuts for each event: an Olympic Qualifying Time (“OQT”) and an Olympic Consideration Time (“OCT”). The OQT standards were set at the time it took to finish 14th in prelims of each event at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, while the OCT standards are 0.5% slower than the OQT. Athletes who achieve an OQT will be automatically qualified for the Olympic Games, provided their NOC hasn’t yet reached the two-swimmer quota in that event. This means that the OQT is the main goal for every swimmer.

But are the OQTs computed in the best way? Are all OQTs the same level of difficulty?

Let’s recall what happened during the 2021 Olympics. In Tokyo, two swimming events were brought to everyone’s attention: not because of world records or their depth, but because of the low number of entries in the women’s 200 butterfly and 400 IM.

There were only 19 entries in the 400 IM and 17 in the 200 butterfly. During the Olympics, Hungary’s Katinka Hosszu withdrew from the 200 fly, which meant that 16 swimmers took part in the event, and all of them qualified for the semifinal. A truly awkward situation.  What happened in Tokyo raised some questions. Why were there so few swimmers in those events? We can wonder if the Olympic qualifying time for those events was more difficult than the others. For the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, OQTs corresponded to the time achieved by a 14th-place swimmer in his or her respective preliminary heat of each event at the 2016 Rio Olympics. A similar criterion was adopted for the 2016 Olympics, when the OQTs corresponded to the time achieved by the 16th place of the heats during the 2012 London Olympics.

Theoretically, all the OQTs should represent the same level of difficulty. And that is the main point: Maybe this doesn’t happen. Take a look at the number of swimmers under the OQT in each event at the 2016 and the 2021 Olympics and consider their entry times in each event.

Number of swimmers under the OQT at the 2016 and the 2021 Olympic Games

 Event 2016 2021 Women Men Women Men 50 freestyle 43 39 24 31 100 freestyle 27 38 27 29 200 freestyle 33 38 17 27 400 freestyle 24 40 18 18 800 freestyle 29 – 24 30 1500 freestyle – 40 31 21 100 backstroke 19 29 28 34 200 backstroke 25 22 21 25 100 breaststroke 29 29 28 33 200 breaststroke 24 32 26 24 100 butterfly 31 32 21 39 200 butterfly 22 25 13 25 200 IM 38 26 22 36 400 IM 30 19 15 23

In 2016, 19 swimmers had entry times faster than the OQT in the women’s 100 backstroke, and there were 43 of them in the women’s 50 freestyle. In 2021, in the women’s 200 butterfly, only 13 swimmers had entry times faster than the OQT. On the other hand, in the men’s 100 butterfly, there were 39 swimmers, which leads us to think that some OQTs are more difficult to achieve than others. This happens because World Aquatics has been computing the OQTs based only on one data point: the 14th or 16th place during the heats of the previous Olympics. For many reasons, a preliminary round of a given event might be faster than another event. This will be reflected on the OQT.  The OQT should reflect the evolution of swimming in the last few years and not only a single meet. By doing this, the number of entries across the events should be more even.

Here’s a proposal: Compute the OQT based on a four-year world ranking.

An alternative method to compute the OQT

Typically, swimmers can obtain the qualifying time standards in domestic and international competitions approved by World Aquatics, beginning the year before the Olympics. For the Tokyo Olympics, the qualifying period began on March 1, 2019 — as the Olympics was postponed to 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic — qualification ended on June 27, 2021.

So, instead of taking the 14th place of the 2016 Olympics as the OQT for the Tokyo Olympics, World Aquatics could compute the OQT using a world ranking from January 1, 2015 until December 31, 2018.

The proposed OQT is the time of the 28th place in that ranking, considering only two swimmers per country.

Why 28th place? We conducted some tests considering the 20th, 24th, 28th, 32th and 36th places, and the 28th seems the best option.

The following tables show the original OQT and the proposed OQT by this criterion, both for the 2016 and the 2021 Olympics. Also, the number of entries if the proposed OQT was used.

Note that for those events in which the original OQT is faster than the proposed OQT, the new number of entries is estimated considering additional swimmers who swam faster than the proposed OQT during the Olympic qualification period and was limited to two swimmers per country.

2016

 Event Women Men Original OQT ProposedOQT Entries by the Proposed OQT Original OQT ProposedOQT Entries by the Proposed OQT 50 freestyle 25.28 25.01 25 22.27 22.05 18 100 freestyle 54.43 54.45 27 48.99 48.63 26 200 freestyle 1:58.96 1:58.01 20 1:47.97 1:47.13 24 400 freestyle 4:09.08 4:09.35 25 3:50.44 3:48.48 28 800 freestyle 8:33.97 8:31.09 23 – – – 1500 freestyle – – – 15:14.77 15:08.43 27 100 backstroke 1:00.25 1:00.44 23 54.36 53.94 21 200 backstroke 2:10.60 2:10.29 24 1:58.22 1:57.93 21 100 breaststroke 1:07.85 1:07.66 26 1:00.57 1:00.39 22 200 breaststroke 2:26.94 2:26.04 20 2:11.66 2:11.01 25 100 butterfly 58.74 58.42 26 52.36 52.04 23 200 butterfly 2:09.33 2:09.62 24 1:56.97 1:56.68 22 200 IM 2:14.26 2:13.00 28 2:00.28 1:59.77 21 400 IM 4:43.46 4:40.79 27 4:16.71 4:16.30 19

2021

 Event Women Men Original OQT ProposedOQT Entries by the Proposed OQT Original OQT Proposed OQT Entries by the Proposed OQT 50 freestyle 24.77 24.92 30 22.01 21.98 29 100 freestyle 54.38 54.11 22 48.57 48.35 20 200 freestyle 1:57.28 1:57.78 20 1:47.02 1:46.60 17 400 freestyle 4:07.90 4:07.93 18 3:46.78 3:47.28 23 800 freestyle 8:33.36 8:29.79 19 7:54.31 7:51.73 20 1500 freestyle 16:32.04 16:20.00 23 15:00.99 15:01.18 21 100 backstroke 1:00.25 1:00.17 26 53.85 53.77 29 200 backstroke 2:10.39 2:09.82 16 1:57.50 1:57.51 25 100 breaststroke 1:07.07 1:07.22 29 59.93 59.92 32 200 breaststroke 2:25.52 2:25.51 26 2:10.35 2:10.37 25 100 butterfly 57.92 57.99 21 51.96 51.80 26 200 butterfly 2:08.43 2:09.22 19 1:56.48 1:56.27 24 200 IM 2:12.56 2:12.14 20 1:59.67 1:59.27 28 400 IM 4:38.53 4:39.53 18 4:15.84 4:15.86 23

In 2016, the number of entries by the proposed OQT would be distributed much more evenly across all events than the original OQT. The number of entries would range from 18 to 28. In 2021, it would range from 16 to 32. It must be considered that for the Tokyo Olympics, swimmers had one additional year to reach the OQT because of the postponement of the Olympics from 2020 to 2021. It might affect the number of entries, but there would be less variation in the number of swimmers across the events than what we actually saw. Of course, there would be other swimmers qualified by the OST and by the universality rule. But the OQT is the cut that automatically qualifies a swimmer for the Olympic Games. And it seems that considering a four-year world ranking guarantees that the OQTs are in the same level of difficulty across the events.

To conclude, let’s take a look at how the OQTs for the 2024 Paris Olympics compare to the proposed OQTs, computed considering the world ranking from January 1, 2019 until December 31, 2022. Most of them are quite similar, but there are a few notable differences, for example, the women’s 200 butterfly. Will we see a preliminary heat with 16 or so swimmers again? We will finish this analysis in 2024.

Original OQTs x proposed OQTs: Paris 2024 Olympic Games

 Event Women Men Original OQT Proposed OQT Original OQT Proposed OQT 50 freestyle 24.70 24.78 21.96 21.88 100 freestyle 53.61 54.10 48.34 48.30 200 freestyle 1:57.26 1:57.68 1:46.26 1:46.50 400 freestyle 4:07.90 4:08.37 3:46.78 3:47.06 800 freestyle 8:26.71 8:32.38 7:51.65 7:50.64 1500 freestyle 16:09.09 16:15.19 15:00.99 14:58.14 100 backstroke 59.99 59.99 53.74 53.68 200 backstroke 2:10.39 2:10.28 1:57.50 1:56.96 100 breaststroke 1:06.79 1:06.62 59.49 59.51 200 breaststroke 2:23.91 2:24.92 2:09.68 2:09.86 100 butterfly 57.92 57.87 51.67 51.65 200 butterfly 2:08.43 2:09.59 1:55.78 1:56.16 200 IM 2:11.47 2:12.21 1:57.94 1:58.27 400 IM 4:38.53 4:41.81 4:12.50 4:15.27

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Willem Coetzee
28 days ago

The problem is that the old FINA and now World Aquatics don’t do data analysis and use common sense. They had the opportunity to fill the 200fly with very strong B qualitiere. Instead they over invited events such as 50 free.

The problem was apparent way before the event started. But you need informed people who actually want to promote their sport, to be involved.

An now they even made the B times faster…. So expect even worse impacts next year!!! You need to rank the top 2 swimmers in each country world wide. No use ranking 10 from America, 10 from China etc with population more than double the size of all other countries combined. Only two… Read more »

Anony
28 days ago

Agree that the the time standards have a different degree of difficulty depending on the event. Taking the womens 200 fly as an example. The difference between the world championship a standard women’s 200 fly and 200 back is around 1 second. The difference between the 200 back and 200 fly Fina olympic qualifying a standard is 2 seconds. How do you explain this? Then you compare the USA olympic trials womens 200 back and 200 fly times standards and they are identical.

Sub13
1 month ago

I agree that a broader calculation than just a single data point is probably the way to go.

For example, in the women’s 200 breast only 16 swimmers hit the Paris A cut last year and only 13 this year so far. No country this year has hit the A cut with 3 swimmers. Could easily end up like the Tokyo 200 breast next year.

And the 200 fly is actually in a similar position. 23 swimmers this year have hit the Paris A cut. 9 of them are outside the top 2 in their country which leaves 14 qualifiers.

Don Megerle
1 month ago

That photo is Exhibit A of how much of a joke breaststroke has become.

RealSlimThomas