U.S. Swimming knows what it’s doing with its 2019 World Championships selection

Researcher working with chemicals

A reply to our Lane One commentary (3 August) on U.S. Swimming’s policy of selecting its 2019 World Championships team from the 2018 National Championships:

Perhaps I could express a difference of opinion with my esteemed friend, the Editor?

Regarding USA Swimming selecting its World Championship team one year in advance, allow me to give the rationale, as well as evidence of its success.

USA Swimming actually selects three teams in 2018 for competitions in 2019: The FINA World Championships, the FISU Universiade (World University Games), and the Pan American Games. In general, the top two swimmers in each event go to Worlds; third and fourth go to WUGs; and, fifth and sixth go to Pan Ams.

This allows the top swimmers in each event to gain international experience the year before Olympic Trials and the Olympic Games. About 125-140 swimmers will comprise these three teams, and it is likely that virtually all of the 2020 Olympic team will come from this core group, as our Olympic team normally is comprised of about 45 swimmers.

This strategy ensures that athletes get a taste of international competition in multi-sport or multi-discipline events in faraway places (Gwangju, Korea; Milan, Italy; and, Lima, Peru) … sleeping and eating in an Athlete Village, and being transported in buses with athletes from many teams. As you know, life in the Village is different from a five-star hotel! This opportunity to understand the rigors associated with competition outside of the USA is invaluable at the time of the Olympics.

Sometimes, long-term gain must sacrifice short-term results. In the end, American athletes are measured by what they do at the Olympic Games. Could our 2019 World Championships team be better if selected in a timeframe closer to the event? Certainly, but it would cause swimmers to have two “peak” meets, instead of one, next summer, which is less advantageous And, the certainty of knowing which competition a swimmer will be attending, and what events he or she will swim, twelve months in advance helps the athlete and coach prepare correctly.

USA swimming teams have been ready: 27 medals in 1992, 26 medals in 1996, 33 medals in 2000, 29 medals in 2004, 31 medals in 2008, 31 medals in 2012, and 33 medals in 2016. 210 medals over seven Olympiads: an average of 30 medals per Games.

So … this strategy of selecting teams for competitions in the year prior to the Olympics has worked. Let’s hope it continues in 2020, even if 2019 might not look perfect!

~ Dale Neuberger, FINA Vice President (Indianapolis, Indiana, USA)