All or nothing: U.S. Swimming Trials leaves no room for error
OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — USA Swimming has a straightforward system for selecting its Olympic team: the top two finishers in each event at the trials are the ones who compete individually at the Summer Games.
No exceptions are made for injuries or other setbacks, which is why Ryan Lochte won't get a chance to defend his Olympic gold medal in the 400-meter individual medley.
After sustaining a groin injury in the morning preliminaries Monday, Lochte finished third in the evening final behind Chase Kalisz and Jay Litherland, prompting some to wonder if there should be a process in place that would allow an 11-time Olympic medalist to compete in the event he won at the London Games four year ago.
"It's one of the beauties about the sport of swimming," said Lindsay Mintenko, managing director of the national team and an Olympic gold medalist herself. "You have to get your hand on the wall. We've done it for years this way. It doesn't matter if you are injured or if you are sick. You know if you have to perform at the Olympic Trials."
Other sports have more complicated systems for picking their teams, which might involve several events and other criteria. Not swimming, which has long selected the team based solely on the performances at its Olympic Trials.
There has been no serious talk about changing the selection process, according to Mintenko.
"I think that our athletes and coaches are used to it this way," she said. "They like it this way. They like the purity of it. They don't like politics behind it. They just want fast swimming."
The top two in each of 26 events (13 each for men and women) are the ones who swim those races at the Olympics. Also, the top six in the 100- and 200-meter freestyles are put on the team to ensure there are enough swimmers to compete in the 4x100m and 4x200m free relays.
A maximum of 52 swimmers — 26 men and 26 women — can be picked for the team.
There are disadvantages to an all-or-nothing system.
"You do run the risk of sometimes not putting your best swimmers on the Olympic team," Mintenko said. "I've left the selection box saying we didn't pick our best team tonight. I think that's just the way that is. It's always been that way. I don't anticipate it changing. I hope it doesn't change."
Mintenko said any flaws in the current system are offset by the competitive edge that swimmers get from competing in such a high-pressure environment only a month before the Olympics.
There will certainly be no do-overs in Rio.
"That's what keeps our sport so exciting. That's what keeps the Olympic trials in particular such an important, intense meet," Mintenko said. "That's good for the athletes. When they get to the Olympics, they'll know that they've won at the Olympic trials and they'll have a lot of confidence."
The eight-day Trials run through Sunday at the CenturyLink Center in Omaha.
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