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Analysis by David Rieder
OMAHA, Nebraska, June 27. THE Olympic Trials is the most pressure-packed meet in the U.S. Of course, the athletes want to advance to the semi-finals and finals and make the Olympic team. But most of the almost-2000 qualified athletes know that such a finish isn't realistic. The goal for each swimmer then becomes to swim with no regrets and to swim better than ever before. How many swimmers, though, actually swim their fastest at the Olympic Trials?
We looked at four events already completed over the first two days of competition in Omaha. In the 100 back and 400 free prelims for both men and women, here's how the athletes performed in relation to their best times. We divided the results between those that swam in the circle-seeded heats (top 30 seeds) and those that did not.
For the women's 100 back, 20.0% of athletes in the circle-seeded heats dropped time, while 15.2% of athletes in non-circle-seeded heats matched or bettered their entry time for a best time percentage of 16.0% in the event.
In the women's 400 free, 10.0% of swimmers in circle-seeded heats and 10.8% of swimmers in non-circle-seeded heats dropped time, for an overall 10.6% of swimmers dropping time.
The men in the 100 back dropped time 20.7% of the time in the circle-seeded heats and 25.5% of the time in the non-circle-seeded heats. Overall, 24.4% of the swimmers dropped time in the event.
Finally, in the men's 400 free, 33.3% of the circle-seeded swimmers dropped time, as did 20.2% of those in the non-circle-seeded heats. 23.4% of swimmers dropped in the event.
Overall, just 18.5% of swimmers in these four events dropped time in the prelims.
How can we explain this overall low number of best times? First of all, swimmers at many meets tend to swim slower in the morning before dropping time in finals. With only 8-16 advancing to swim at night, swimmers could be having trouble posting a finals-caliber time in the morning. Olympic Trials is a pressure-packed meet, and perhaps some of the swimmers are feeling this pressure. Meanwhile, many of the circle-seeded athletes have the luxury to hold back in prelims in hopes of saving their energy for finals. Other top seeds may miscalculate the effort needed to advance and end up missing out. While, yes, the number of best times is low, we shouldn't expect 100% best times for sure.
In researching the different races, we found some key trends. For both races, the men had a much higher percentage of best times than their female counterparts. For both men and women, the 100 backstrokers achieved a greater percentage of best times than did 400 freestylers.