Analyzing the Pros & Cons of a Two Wave Olympic Swimming Trials

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Analyzing the Pros & Cons of a Two Wave Olympic Swimming Trials

USA Swimming made a landmark decision on Tuesday by splitting the Olympic Swimming Trials into two separate meets: Wave I and Wave II. The second Wave will be the official qualification meet for the Olympic Games with a faster set of time standards set so 1700 swimmers aren’t milling around in one site during a global pandemic. It’s not a perfect solution, but there wasn’t one. And this is likely the scenario USA Swimming came up with that made the most people happy.

Could the meet have been split by gender? Possibly, but then one gender would have an extra two or so weeks to prepare for the Olympics. Is that an advantage or a disadvantage? It would make more sense to name the team in one eight day format and grant everyone the same amount of prep time in between Trials and the Games.

Could the meet have been split by gender but swum at the same time? Well, maybe. But coaches of big groups can’t be in two different places at the same time, and it may cause a discord among training groups if a head coach decides to head to the women’s meet over the men’s meet or vice versa. And even if that was the case, where would the other meet be held at such late notice? It made more sense to keep the meet in Omaha in this format.

So with an unprecedented Olympic Trials format coming up this summer in June, we weighed the pros and cons of the landmark decision:

Pro: Window Between Olympic Swimming Trials & Olympics Remains Same

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2016 Olympic team at the conclusion of the Olympic Swimming Trials. Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Even when the Olympic Trials were on for 2020, there was going to be a set interval of five weeks between the last day of Olympic Trials and the first day of the Olympics. That allows the coaches and athletes to have a mental preparation of what a five-week training block will look like to best prepare for the big show at the end of the summer.

Let’s face it, coaches are planners and the swimmers are creatures of habit. Had the Trials been moved just two weeks earlier from the Olympics, it would have thrown off those that qualified. Of course, the athletes have strong adaptability skills and it may not have mattered, but USA Swimming sticking with the same dates for Wave II will be integral for the swimmers that make the Olympic team. A five week preparation is much different than a seven week preparation.

Pro: Olympic Favorites Get to Race Best of the Best

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Since March 2020, there have been very few meets in the United States where the elite level athletes have had to get on a plane and race the best. With the US Open, most athletes were within driving distance of their site, with the meet spread out over nine sites across the map. For juniors, it was like every swimmer was in their own home pool, with the sites being set up so no swimmer was traveling more than 90 minutes. Comparing times on paper is one thing, but there is nothing like swimming side by side against your peers and rivals.

With Wave II Olympic Swimming Trials, that gives the Olympic favorites a chance to race the best of the best in the most fair way to select an Olympic team. A virtual Olympic Trials across different sites would have been preposterous, so having an opportunity for the upper echelon of swimmers to race in one venue is going to be a welcomed opportunity for those involved.

Con: First Time Qualifiers in Wave I May Not Get the Full “Trials Experience”

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Even for the swimmers who don’t make the team or have no chance to make the team, the opportunity to say you competed at the Olympic Trials is the pinnacle for many in their careers. Now in 2021, many have had no choice but to retire early, and with those swimmers that had to qualify at the last second, it may not be worth it to compete in a smaller Olympic Trials when all the big names are off swimming a few weeks later. There is something rather boastful about being able to say you swam in a warm-up lane at Olympic Trials with a Simone Manuel or Ryan Murphy. With those athletes off in a separate meet, it may turn some people away.

Many swimmers grind day in and day out so they can earn the right to compete at Olympic Trials in that basketball arena, surrounded by some of the greatest swimmers in the world. As a swimmer who has competed at a national-level meet, there was nothing more thrilling than having the opportunity to watch finals from the stands with your athlete pass and getting that experience. With no fans at Olympic Swimming Trials and none of the big names competing in Wave I, it is not the “Trials experience” that so many yearned to witness. Of course that is out of everyone’s control, but it may hinder the experience for many that wanted the opportunity to race in the big show.

Con: A Lack of Closure in Goal Setting

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

This point is similar to the one above. For many swimmers, the Olympic Swimming Trials were supposed to be the end-be-all for their careers. Achieving Olympic Trials cuts is like the equivalent of making the Olympics for many swimmers. But many college seniors did not get to close out their careers and compete at the NCAA Championships and therefore were forced to retire early and pursue endeavors out of the pool whether they are professional jobs or grad school opportunities. In a perfect world, many swimmers would have used Olympic Trials as their final meet and to be able to say they swam at the highest level domestically.

For some swimmers, Wave I will be an opportunity to prove themselves as a stepping point for the future, but for the ones that were hanging on for that one last meet, the experience has already been diminished. With Olympic Trials split in two, is it worth it to hang on for one more year to be able to experience a thrilling national level meet as an athlete in 2022? Maybe not. For some it will be, but for many the Wave I Olympic Trials will not be worth it to train for when they had dreams of swimming at the highest level.