This year’s USA Swimming Olympic Trials will take place from June 4th through June 20st in Omaha, Nebraska.
There are essentially 5 stroke races – freestyle, backstroke, butterfly, breaststroke and individual medley (combination of the other four strokes) – and then varying distances from 50 meters to 200 meters in strokes and up to 1500 meters in freestyle. 50 meter and 100 meter sprints vary in strategy from longer races 200 meters and above (middle distance). 400 meter and above are considered distance events. So freestylers have a 50m, 100m, 200m, 400m, 800m, and 1500m to contend in while other strokes may have only 100m and 200m event. IM is only a 200m – 50m of each stroke- or 400m – 100m of each stroke. In total, there are 26 events on the Olympic Trials schedule – 13 each for the men’s and women’s teams.
Going by the numbers, there are typically between 100 and 150 swimmers who qualify for each event. These time standards are set a couple years in advance and serve as a target for aspiring swimmers seeking to qualify. So, just making it to the Olympic Trials is an accomplishment in itself as it represents the top American swimmers across the country. Racers in most events must swim preliminaries, then the top 16 move onto the semifinals, and the lucky 8 advance to finals.
So, just how easy is it to make the USA Olympic Swimming team? The only guaranteed entry onto the USA Olympic team in swimming is to win an individual event. In the case of the 100m or 200m freestyle events, finishing in the top four at the Olympic Trials may be enough. Typically the USA will have room on the roster to take the top two in each event, plus the 5th and 6th place finishers in the 100m and 200m freestyles, as well. So, that makes a contingent of about 56 individuals – 23 men and 23 women who wear the American flag in Rio (26 members max per gender). So, several thousand men and women who will venture to Omaha next week, will turn into the most-fit cheerleading squad in the world as they will be left on the outside looking in.
Is 23 slots for a man or woman a lot of opportunities? Well, to put it in perspective, there are 53 players on an NFL roster at any time in the regular season. For preseason, 90 can call themselves professionals. 50 players will make the World Series this year. Even the NBA saw 30 male millionaires compete in their championship each year.
For swimmers, it is two people per event – just like Noah’s Ark – who have the opportunity every four years. That essentially means that most individuals will only have one, maybe two opportunities to even get to the Olympic Trials in their lifetimes. Most, don’t earn prize money. Most don’t have endorsement deals from Nike, or car companies, or Gatorade. Most are just fueled by the hope and dream of being one of those celebrated few. If they are lucky enough to make it there, that is only half of the battle. Now, the pressure is there to perform. Win it and you might gain a chance to be America’s darling for a few years and reap several hundred thousand in endorsements – maybe even a few millions if everything goes right. Lose, and no one may ever remember your name. So, while people may remember Scott Norwood as the Buffalo Bills kicker who shanked the Super Bowl winning field goal, whoever remembers the person who finished 6th at the Olympics?
So, as the swimming community descends on Omaha next week, we can all appreciate just how hard it is to just make it there. For those who get to move on, they are the celebrated few who get to live out a life’s dream
The full USA Olympic Trials schedule is as follows: