Why Great Britain’s Olympic Qualifying Standards Might Not Be As Crazy As They Seem

Yesterday, British Swimming released its selection criteria for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, much to the dismay of many fans.

To say the new British qualifying times are fast would probably be an understatement. The times – which must be achieved by a top-finishing swimmer at next year’s British Championships in order to make the Olympic team – are somewhere around the level required to make an Olympic final, and even faster in some cases. (That prediction is per the Swimnex prediction algorithm, which we covered earlier this week.)

When we covered the standards yesterday, we noted that only about 10 British swimmers have the track record to approach those times without major improvement. That would be a huge weeding down from the 45 swimmers Great Britain sent to the home London Olympic Games in 2012.

More on the standards themselves here

But while the standards themselves are very stringent, there’s reason believe Great Britain’s selection procedures aren’t as crazy as they look.

Great Britain is focusing their selection on Olympic medals, and none of its best medal hopes should be affected. All 5 individual medal-winners from the 2015 World Championships (Adam Peaty, James Guy, Ross Murdoch, Jazz Carlin, and Siobhan-Marie O’Connor) should easily make the cuts if they swim to expectations. Every other Worlds finalist is within striking distance, which would bump the roster up into the 15-20 range.

Then there’s the extra discretionary picks, which is the real key to this selection process. British Swimming is allowing up to 6 extra athletes to be added to the team at the discretion of the National Performance Director and the team’s head coach. Those 6 will be decided from a pool of swimmers within a certain percentage of a second set of time standards – but the catch is that the percentage will be decided upon by British swimming after the fact.

Essentially, British Swimming has given itself more flexibility in adding athletes without compromising its top-tier medal hopes. The 6 extra picks should allow the organization to fill out relays with what they feel is the best possible combination of swimmers, and the team as a whole should be unified under the premise that every member of the roster is realistically aiming for the same goal – an Olympic medal.

It’s also worth noting that of the 45-person 2012 Olympic roster, only 17 even advanced to a final in London. Only two ultimately won medals (Michael Jamieson and Becky Adlington) in what was a disappointing showing for the home team.

Including all discretionary picks, Great Britain will likely be bringing somewhere between 20 and 25 swimmers to Rio, which seems about the right number in terms of vying for Olympic finals based on the 2012 results and the subsequent rise of British swimming over the past few years.

And while the selection times themselves do raise eyebrows, Great Britain is still far from holding the world’s most difficult selection procedures.

Without knowing every nation’s processes, the front-runner for that honor has to be Germany, which requires its athletes to hit a qualifying standard in both prelims and finals of German trials, then compete in yet another meet later in the season and hit the cut a third time.

That’s a process that could truly cut out medal hopefuls. One bad race by world record-holder Paul Biedermann and he could be out of contention; one slip off a start and any promising swimmer could be definitively off the team, unless Germany introduces the same discretionary procedures as Great Britain.

The British team will almost certainly be smaller in 2016 than it was in 2012, but despite early reactions, the new selection procedures shouldn’t affect any of the nation’s best medal hopes, and the discretionary picks allow the federation enough flexibility to put together a roster it feels good about. All things considered, those are two pretty important indicators of a selection process that should at least be functional, even if unpopular.

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Gina Rhinestone
4 years ago

GB is a steadfast follower of Australian sport fashion. They are replicating Aus 2004 where they cut the overall team numbers by 30% . Unlike GB swimming is a top medal earner so that was not trimmed . Top attention was paid to cycling , especially track where , if you are on a roll , big returns on investment can be met . In fact Australia increased its medal tally in 2004 due to many track cycling gold . GB then poached / dated the coaches / performance staff ) . Since then they have swapped between number 1&2 – just depends what cycle they are each on .& who us prepared to forego road cycling winnings for 6-12… Read more »

4 years ago

i would try to model everything possible to what the USA does. It might tick people off that there are so many OT qualifiers in the U.S. but the process works and is a HUGE money maker that allows USA Swimming to support it’s athletes.

Gina Rhinestone
Reply to  jman
4 years ago

Apples & oranges . I am sure the QT for British trials is fine ,it is the number& standard of swimmer they intend to send to Rio. There are other sports reflecting their increasing African athletic talent that deserves places.

I predict a leaner elite program in future & more money spent on community & schools swimming. after a monster Elite sports budget 2006-2014 .

Reply to  jman
4 years ago

USA Swimming has the sheer numbers of competitive swimmers and is generally able to field at least one swimmer per event who is internationally competitive (ie finals standard) at minimum. The only other nation with anywhere near that “spread” is AUS so copying the US is just not a viable option. Different countries have differing levels of resources and differing levels of depth so they have to deal with the realities of what they have to select from. Whilst I think that GB Swimming has gone overboard with these times however their approach is a completely valid one. They know that they cannot field a “full team” (one covering all Olympic events) and that they only have a fairly narrow… Read more »

Gina Rhinestone
Reply to  commonwombat
4 years ago

I agree . I didn’t waste my time with our American friends on some of the reasons . Behind the positive stats in the Uk there is massive outlays coming up .For the first time since 1800 they are dealing with a population explosion & not able to ‘export’ or kill off their dissatisfied or nuisance citizens via wars & colonisation. They are now The Brunt & will have to build one million new homes on their sacred green belt plus hundreds of new schools. ditto hospitals where they don’t do private . A majority Conservative govt for 5 years will cut public outlays even sacred cows e.g. 20,000 & many traditional regiments were cut from the military. (of course… Read more »

Reply to  Gina Rhinestone
4 years ago

Yes, the sports funding situation has tightened considerably post London. Whilst it hasn’t been “slash and burn” across the board, its now become far more focused on which sports are: – continuing to deliver results – look likely to deliver top level results and, within the sports, where specifically the money is best spent. TBH, AUS Olympic officials could do well to swallow their egos and follow the British. They do not need to fully revert back to the old days of “penny pinching” when deciding the size of teams/which sports to go but they should bite the bullet and stop the ego trip of sending the biggest team possible. Rather they need to take a look at what sports… Read more »

4 years ago

I think if the swimmers could vote on this they would vote to fire some of the administrative monkeys running British swimming and free up some more money to field the maximum sized team they could. Most swimmers have an ultimate swimming goal to make the Olympic team…so why not make as many dreams come true as possible. They are funding 60plus swimmers now? Send them to the meet for heavens sake. No sorry not fast enough you can take the rest of the summer off and watch the Olympics on TV.

Reply to  TA
4 years ago

But why turn up to an Olympics swim one race, finish nowhere and go home. Participation in sport should be encouraged but this should just be for fun not at the elite level in sport which is about winning or winning medals, the Olympics is about people achieving what no-one has done before and this should be the focus of every elite swimmer in the UK, not just taking part and having a bit of fun…