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.
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.