The U.S. Olympic swimming trials will be split into two meets, a striking change designed to provide safer conditions on the pool deck in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
USA Swimming announced Tuesday that a Wave I meet of lower-ranked swimmers qualifying for the trials will be held on June 4-7.
The top finishers will advance to the main Wave II meet on June 13-20 — the already scheduled dates for the trials — to determine who represents the U.S at the Tokyo Games.
Both meets will take place in a temporary pool set up inside the CHI Health Center arena in Omaha, Nebraska, the trials’ host for the fourth straight time.
The change is designed to reduce overcrowding on the pool deck, an adjacent warmup pool and the athlete seating areas. The top 41 seeded swimmers in each event will automatically qualify for Wave II.
As of last week, 1,305 athletes had qualified for the Olympic trials since the window opened Nov. 28, 2018.
The meet, initially set for last summer, was delayed a year after the Tokyo Olympics were postponed because of the pandemic, which has claimed more than 400,000 American lives and more than 2 million victims around the world.
“Our number one priority was to find a way to host trials in the safest possible environment while also giving the athletes the best opportunity to succeed,” said Mike Unger, USA Swimming’s chief operating officer.
Instead of limiting the meet to only the top-seeded swimmers, the governing body preferred a format that provided valuable experience to those who may be contenders in future years.
“While selecting the Olympic team for Tokyo is a critical goal for the trials, it is important to note that the experience gained at trials by some of the lower-seeded athletes has historically provided a great experience for future Olympic trials (and games), which fueled our desire to host two events,” Unger said in a statement.
USA Swimming reviewed the last five Olympic trials going back to 2000 to determine the the lowest-seeded swimmers to qualify for an event final. Morgan Scroggy, seeded 41st, qualified for the 200-meter backstroke final at the 2008 trials.
Erin Phenix was the lowest-seeded swimmer to earn a spot on the Olympic team. She was 38th when she qualified as a relay swimmer for the 2000 Sydney Games by finishing sixth in the 100 free final.
Based on that data, USA Swimming will adjust the current trials standard in each event to the current 41st-seeded time. Athletes who have met or bettered that time will automatically advance to Wave II.
The newly adjusted standards also factor in a possible growth of 50-60 athletes per event in the four months leading into the Olympic Trials, generating a final field of approximately 750 total athletes in the Wave II meet.
All of the top swimmers and Olympic favorites will easily qualify for the second meet.
Swimmers who do not meet the Wave II time standards before May 30 will compete in the Wave I meet. The top two finishers in each event will advance to Wave II, which will ultimately determine the U.S. team.
Local officials supported the decision to split the meet into two events. They are working with USA Swimming and the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee to come up with safety guidelines for the meet. It has not been determined how many fans will be allowed in the 17,000-seat arena.
Josh Todd, executive director of the Omaha Sports Commission, said the new format “provides us with the opportunity to stage not one, but two marquee events in the city of Omaha.”
“We are working closely with the CHI Health Center team and are committed to delivering a safe and memorable experience for every athlete coming to Omaha to chase their dreams and to compete for a spot on the U.S. Olympic team.” Todd said.
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