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By John Lohn
OMAHA, Nebraska, June 25. HIS time is the third-fastest in the world this year. The effort is worth more than 900 points on the FINA ratings chart. But in terms of the Olympic Games, what Tyler Clary did in the 400 individual medley at Monday night's Olympic Trials isn't worth a thin.
Despite producing stellar time, Clary touched the wall in third place in the 400 IM, the cruelest of finishing places at the Olympic Trials. He found himself caught in the wake of Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps, who punched their tickets to the London Games with respective performances of 4:07.06 and 4:07.89.
Some people will argue that Clary came along at the wrong time, or in the wrong events. True, he is racing in the era of Phelps and Lochte, and many of his events cross paths with the greats of the sport. But there is a bigger issue than Clary's timing or his schedule, and it has everything to do with the selection process for the Olympics.
The current qualifying criteria for the Olympics — at least for a powerhouse like the United States — goes like this: A country can send two athletes to the Games in each event, provided they have achieved the FINA “A” standard. Team USA never has any difficulty meeting that standard. Where the problem sits with the United States is in its excellence and depth. Heck of a problem to have, huh?
Before we go any further and someone decides to cite this article for American bias, the thoughts expressed here go for any country with a splendid crop of swimmers. I'm as passionate for Australia as I am for the United States about deserving athletes being given an Olympic opportunity. It just so happens that this is being written from the United States Olympic Trials.
If you look at track and field, the International Olympic Committee allows for three athletes to represent a nation in a specific event. That scenario allows for a country — such as Kenya in the steeplechase, for example — to sweep the medals. It also allows for a country with a rich tradition in the sport to demonstrate that superiority on the global stage.
Considering swimming is a stopwatch sport and, like track and field, offers up a variety of events, why is it placed behind the eight-ball and limited to a pair of entries per event. Really, it doesn't make sense. It's not a financial issue. And, with thousands of athletes already competing, it's not a population dilemma. However, it is a problem.
The Olympic Games are about having the best athletes gathered together to determine who is the finest in a variety of disciplines. But how can that scenario play out when someone like Clary, who obviously would contend for a medal, is left home? Beyond the United States, let's look at Japan. That country has the second, third, fourth and fifth-ranked women's 200 breaststrokers in the world. However, only two will race in London. There's a clear disconnect between what the Olympics should produce and how the Games handle the sport of swimming.
There was a time when countries were allowed to have three athletes in each event in swimming, but that rule was outlawed after the 1976 Olympics. It just happened to be the most dominant Olympic performance in swimming history, with the American men winning 12 of 13 events. Was there bias against the United States? Likely.
Of course, there is an answer. What if a provision was put in place where an athlete ranked in the top-10 in the world in an event is given a berth to the Olympics? For Japan, it would have its full roster of standout breaststrokers where they belong, competing for Olympic hardware. For Clary, he would have another chance to battle it out with Phelps and Lochte.
Going with the top-10 is not extending arbitrary Olympic berths. It's a reasonable total which ensures that those with medal potential get their chance. And that's what it's all about.
In all likelihood, Tyler Clary, who declined to speak to reporters after race, is going to rebound this week and earn in invitation to London, probably in more than one event. For now, though, you can't help but feel frustrated over his plight. We're talking about a guy who could medal in the 400 IM, but instead will do no more than watch it.
Follow John Lohn on Twitter: @JohnLohn