By Duncan Scott
MAUI, Hawaii, February 2. IN looking back on the Junior Pan Pacific Championships last month in Hawaii, SwimInfo clearly sees that a good time was had by all, but there was much confusion about who had the best time and by how much.
In the official team standings, based on a point system agreed to in advance of the competition which combined boys and girls scoring, the top three were: Australia, which won a close battle with the USA, 1169-1141. The USA cut what had been a margin of over 40 points after the first swim of the final night down to only 28 points at the end; Japan, which was a distant third, over a hundred points back from the USA at 1034.5.
Yet media reports after the meet in Australia referred to their team as having been bested by the Japanese, who won 17 gold medals compared to 14 for Australia. The Americans were an afterthought that seemed hardly worth mentioning, winning only three golds.
This position was seriously expressed, without a hint of ambiguity, despite the Aussies prevailing both in the official point standings and in overall medals with 37, Japan gathering 29 and the USA 26.
Americans certainly have a well earned reputation as a society that values winning; and medal tables during the Olympics are certainly a prominent media presence to the point of distraction.
But Americans, steeped in the traditions of scholastic and collegiate competition, have also always been comfortable with team champions being determined by specific agreed point systems which have generally given recognition to the value of depth, where a fourth and a fifth may equal or exceed the team value of a win.
An NCAA team champion is not devalued when their winning formula is based on few or no individual gold medals but waves and waves of “scorers,” while another squad may have had five or six individual wins and numerous “medal” level swims but few second-heat points.
Individual stars may shine for their teams but the team champion is determined by the agreed point system. (i.e. 2001 Women’s NCAA D-I, Georgia over Stanford; Cardinal won 6 of 21 events but lost team title 389-387.5)
As much as we like winning, these real “team” experiences have commonly allowed Americans to look past just the vague team evaluation produced by a medal table and recognize those summaries more as indicators of individual performance and not necessarily as team results. We will certainly include medals as a primary program evaluation criterion, especially at a meet like the Olympics where there has not been a “team” scoring systems set, but our team meet experiences allow more appreciation of the fourth and sixth place personal best swims in an event by athletes who came into the meet seeded seventh and ninth.
So who won the Junior Pan Pacs? It depends on how you look at it, doesn’t it?
Empirically, the Australians were the champions under the rules set for the competition. Any other conclusion is spin. They won, whether their press recognizes and appreciates it or not.
The Japanese did a great job in winning 17 gold, and if that is their objective they had a great success for their program. But under the rules, they were a well-beaten third.
And finally the Americans only had two winners in the pool, with the girls' 200m back going to Erica Meissner and overall boys high point leader, Matt Patton, picking up the 800-1500 double.
Can that be termed a success? It depends on how you look at it, doesn’t it. With only three golds, compared to a combined 31 between Japan and Australia, the USA was still able to come within just 28 points, out of well over 2,300 scored between the leaders, of legitimately claiming the team title. They had to pull together, support each other and have the kind of “team building” experience that has been so diligently pursued by USA Swimming for its international competition squads the last decade, for both its teams and its individuals.
The Americans didn’t win the most gold. They didn’t win the most medals. But in what, it must be remembered, was simply a high level developmental meet, their joint experience and support for each other in chasing the Aussies down the stretch for the “team” title will undoubtedly produce internal benefits for these athletes when some share of them reaches the next level.
They all won: Aussies, Japanese … and Americans.