Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Faster Standards: What's the Point?

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.


  1. Grodzki got a lot of energy behind him because he swims in the US...but I'm actually more concerned about the fact that Silke Lippok didn't get taken.

    I think they need to consider different standards for different events, really. The top-10 across-the-board thing is what got me, but I'm sure there'd be legal challenges to having different ranks for different events.

    And also the proximity to the Olympics...we saw how hard this bit them last year.

    Regardless of what the problem is (standards? development?) to have a swimmer take silver in 2010 at the European Championships when she was 16, and then not make the team Olympic team when she's 18?? There's something wrong there. Just have to wonder how fast these swimmers would've gone fully tapered...the top-10 doesn't leave much room for swimmers to leave anything in the tank, for the most part.

  2. I don't think it's entirely a resource thing, but also a mentality. You really don't want swimmers on the team who are there to swim one event, knowing that they won't make a second swim and not taking the mentality that they are there to win medals. It's like having that kid in your practice who is always messing around because they're not really there to compete. It drags the rest of the swimmers down to see half of the team out having fun while they try to prepare for their races.

    1. If everybody had this attitude, the Olympics would disappear. The medal count thing is stupid and takes away from the main purpose of the games.

      The attitude that people should give up because others are faster is what's wrong with this sport and the people who run it!

    2. "You don't want swimmers on the team who are there to swim one event" - WOW - THAT'S HARSH!

      I'd fill all 52 spots - I'd let as many athletes as possible experience the pride and honor of attending the Olympic Games. Most athletes know that they will not win a medal or even come close and NO they should not stay home.

      Actually, the past few Olympics have been a drag to watch because the media focuses on the medal count, waste air time talking about the medal count and show minimal events.

  3. What do you imply in reference to not being in danger of returning to "Carvin level distance". Was that a slight to the olympic silver medalist and Olympic finalist in the 400 Free? Geez...classy

  4. Chris,

    Growing up as a distance swimmer in the "Carvin Distance Era" I was a big Chad Carvin fan (weird yes.) He was a really good middle distance swimmer. He had a nice 500 at NCAAs, a decent 400 fr and a good enough 200. That being said his 1500 was not on par. Just because Chris implied that American distance swimming was down when Carvin was leading the way doesn't mean is not classy. It was honesty. American Distance swimming was down during that period.
    I remember USA Swimming really trying to promote Distance swimming during that time because we lagged behind. I still have my Zone Distance Camp shirt form 1998 with the slogan "The National Pride Returns." There was a bounty out for the 1500 WR, AR and a sub 15:00 1500. I think there was something like 1,000,000 being offered to an American breaking the 1500 WR at a certain meet.

    This was done in reaction to a decade of poor American Men's distance performance. A decade represented by Carvin as the distance leader.

    1. I agree. surely that was not a personal dig on Carvin. I was a fan too. and I remember the incentives as well. I think the Pro-Am in OKC still gives the bigger bonus for distance records that started back then... As a matter of fact, I think I saw Chad Carvin break one there.

  5. OK:) Just making sure cuz Carvin was one of the best...and Never thought of him as a miler internationally...thanks for the clarification

  6. Carvin is still an awesome swimmer and a great person!