In the past week, much of the discussion surrounding Germany's Olympic selection meet has been over their standards. You see, the German's chose to make their athletes not just make the FINA "A" cut, but actually go a faster time, an equivalent to the 10th fastest time the world last year. Most notably, Georgia based swimmer Martin Grodzki cleared the "A" standard on the last day of the meet in the 1500 but was left off the London squad. This begs multiple questions: why does Germany see a need to have a higher standard than the FINA "A"?
To understand, you have to step outside the US mindset. In the US, it is seen as a limitation in some situations that we can "only" select two swimmers per event. Often there has been a third US swimmer who could contend for a medal at the Olympics. But few, if any, other countries have had that quandary. These countries also have far fewer resources. They have to be judicious about who they send. In their minds, there is little to be gained from sending a swimmer to a big international meet, much less the Olympics, who cannot at least get a second swim.
But the problem here is larger than that. Ordinarily these time standards would be far less of an issue. Germany has traditionally been a very strong swimming country. Were this an average group of German swimmers they would be sending far more than the 18 they selected for London. But this is not an average group. Germany is a swimming power on the verge (if not already) of falling flat on it's face in 2012.
Take, for instance, the aforementioned 1500. Grodzki's time of 15:10 was nearly 20 seconds slower than the national record set by Jorg Hoffman in 1991. As much as the Bill Sweetenham's of the world love to bemoan the death of distance swimming, this is not a common problem. The heathen sprinter's paradise of America is in no danger of returning to Chad Carvin levels of distance performance. Germany's tiny neighbor to the north, Denmark, will field two athletes in the London 1500 leaps and bounds ahead of Grodzki.
Germany's two established swimming stars, Britta Steffen and Paul Biedermann, seem to already have peaked. Steffen, once the world's best sprinter, hasn't medaled individually long course since 2009. Biedermann was steady with two bronzes in Shanghai last summer and did get the benefit of training through this competition. Only other legitimate hope for a medal on Germany's team is Christian vom Lehn, the young breaststroker and medalist from Shanghai.
At this point, you might believe that I agree with Germany's strategy: I don't. When standards are so far ahead of the athletes you have an imbalance that must be addressed. Keeping athletes at home is not the solution, in fact it hurts future development. The young talents in countries like Germany need to feel like there is an attainable goal for them to aspire too. To be fair, German swimming has put some responsibility on coaching when they took the bold move in firing Orjan Madsen in an Olympic year, but this problem goes far beyond Madsen. Germany needs to re-evaluate how they are developing athletes across the country and why they are falling behind. German talent hasn't all of a sudden disappeared, but the development of it definitely has.