Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Counterpoint: Too Big Trials? -Viking's Take.

I heard a coach the other day say that he refuses to take his athletes to the Olympic Trials.  He called it the "big lie"-- like 165 of the 170 athletes qualified in each event was being duped:  "Like they have a chance," he said.  "It's ridiculous.  We know who most of the Olympic Team is going to be before they ever hit the water.  It's all about the money."

This was out of the mouth of a coach whom I deeply respect and who has worked with athletes who have actually made the team.  I was taken back a little by this statement.  I knew that there were issues that come up with a large Trials, like the timeline and fitting in time trials, but it only seemed logical to me to make the trials a big event.  Especially when we see how the size of the crowd is so negatively affected by the athlete cap at the men's NCAA champs, it seems like a no-brainer that in swimming, even at the highest level, it is hard to fill the seats without the families of the swimmers in the meet there to watch. More swimmers does mean more tickets.  Is it bad to do what we can to fill the seats?  It's atmosphere, man!!

When I was swimming in college ('92-'96) you could still qualify for the Olympic Trials in the yard pool, and I believe the 200 breast cut was 1:57.99.  I didn't realize it until a couple of years later, as I hadn't started coaching yet, that after '96 the cuts were scaled back to around what the USA Nationals cuts were.  So, the breaststroke went to around 2:02.5 in SCY. (Since then they have stopped allowing q times in the yard pool, but they have kept the meet large.) I kind of felt ripped off when I heard about the change, and when I asked Coach Steck, he put it to me this way:  "I think it's the smartest grass-roots marketing USA Swimming has ever done.  Now, the small town papers get to promote swimming's local heroes.  There is gonna be a lot more interest in the sport now."

And he was right.  Do you want an example?  Take the one guy from my little tiny high school who went to trials but didn't make the team:  Derek Gibb.  He was legit in that he split 18.65 on Auburn's medley relay at NCAA's in a brief before anyone had ever broken 19 from a flat start.  In the months leading up to the 2004 Trials, Derek didn't just get an article in the local paper.  He was in the paper all over the state.  The average person was not talking about his splits at NCAA's.  They didn't know anything about how he ranked nationally unless they were into memorizing random stats from the paper.  They just knew that he was going to the Olympic Trials and swimming with the big boys.  Check out this article from the Juneau Empire. Google him and you will find even more.  Some articles were from California where he swam JUCO. This was a big deal.  He even found a fishing vessel to sponsor him so he could train!

The same thing happened here in the Joplin area during that same Olympic cycle.  A local kid (little tiny Pittsburg, KS) got just about last place in the 200 fly at the trials, but I guarantee he got about 500 local summer league families and more to tune in on tv or fill seats in the stands just to see the local guy compete in the big show.  Free advertising in local papers and on local tv?  You can't beat that.

I am sure they will make the cuts harder for the next cycle.  They probably need to... but be careful about hoping they take a big axe to those q times.  A large Trials meet has a lot of benefit, and that might outweigh the negatives.  Has there really been a loss in prestige for the big event?  Nah... the real prestige that we have to worry about is limited to the 52 who are left standing when the dust settles, and if they have a shot at that level, they can handle warming up in a crowded pool without their nerves getting rattled.


  1. I couldn't agree more! I also hope that, as they harden the cuts as they have to in order to keep the meet manageable, they also look into having a different standard for 18&U athletes. Those athletes should still have a shot at making the meet and swimming in it for the experience, regardless if they actually have a chance to make the team at that point.

  2. True, Chris: not much of a counter-point since it wasn't direct opposition to your message. that's what I get for only pretending I read your stuff. haha. busted. :)

    and you are right: they need to just come out and be plain about why they want a big meet and come up with solutions so they aren't cutting out time trials for cryin' out loud. it probably is bigger than they intended but still...

  3. Olympic Trials should never have different standards for different ages.

  4. The olympic trials is what it is - field an Olympic team. Either a swimmer has the cut or they don't. Age should not be a factor.

    Time trials are just another way to swim an event the athlete is not qualified to swim - too bad if it upsets some people. Do away with the time trials!

    They probably want a lot of participants at the Olympic Trials because there will be too many swimmers for anyone to keep track of and this way it would be harder to question the posted results.

    Like the article says "they already know who most of the Olympic team is going to be". If an unknown has a great swim or a well-known has an awful swim, it wouldn't surprise me if the officials passed it off as a faulty pad.

    How do you trust these people? I don't know, maybe take as many photos as possible.

  5. 1800 swimmers with 3500 splashes entered. Average - each swimmer get to swim twice over 8 days in prelims! If standards do not get faster, then the sport is not improving as a whole. In 2016, I believe there will be more swimmers swimming faster.