Monday, March 26, 2007

Just How Fast is Fast Enough? Part 2

Since Part 1 touched upon Olympic ‘C’ qualifying it would seem only right to discuss the more traditional way of gaining entry into the Olympics – that of earning it. The second level of qualification is achieved by meeting the ‘B’ standard as set out by the IOC. For example the upcoming 2008 Beijing Games has set the ‘B’ qualification time for the men’s 100 free at 0:50.95. I don’t know exactly how this standard is calculated but normally in major competitions it’s arrived at by adding some percentage to prior finals averages. More importantly these ‘B’ standards appear to limit the field to roughly the top 100 in the world (admittedly based upon the very small sample I've checked). The catch to ‘B’ qualification is the qualification only allows countries one athlete per event. Much better is to meet ‘A’ standards which enable a country to enter two competitors. This third and highest level of qualification requires both potential Olympians to achieve a time which lies roughly in the world’s top 25. For the men’s 100 free in Beijing this translates to a rather quick 0:49.23. Some may remember in the past a country could qualify three for an event (medal sweeps did occur on a few occasions) but no longer. The rule change has unfortunately meant some unfairness for any sport superpowers who can qualify three or more ‘A’ athletes (read USA for swimming). Because of this every Olympics now sees some not in attendance who are significantly better than most of those actually participating in the Games. It just makes all those frivolous ‘C’ category swimmers even harder to take.

Apparently I’m not alone in condemning the lack of at least some sort of qualification standards for these 12th FINA World Championships. The numerous complaints have caused FINA’s executive director Cornel Marculescu to announce FINA will analyze this question when they return to Switzerland, though he defends the current open door policy as he feels the participation from typically non-swimming nations shows the international “strength” of the sport. Personally I think his stance is profoundly racist, coming as it surely must from a belief the citizens of countries with only ‘C’ qualifying swimmers will be encouraged by the mere presence of one of their own at these championships and will overlook their actual performance. But maybe I’m saying this because my country has gone the exact opposite route with its Olympic athletes. Not for Canada to use national rankings or even IOC’s qualification standards to select its athletes. No, my country instead requires its athletes to be ranked top 12 in the world before being allowed to compete internationally. While in main this policy has come about because of long standing budget constraints I think there’s little doubt it continues in part to avoid having to report Canadian athletes placing in the thirties or forties. It’s grossly unfair to our athletes and a topic to which I’ll return at some later date to deal with in depth.

If you're interested I’ve located a video clip on Youtube showing 'C' qualifier Eric Moussambani’s 2000 Sydney Games race which Damien referred to in his comments on Part 1. Interestingly the Youtube viewers are more indignant over the audience's hilarity than Mr. Moussambani’s performance. If they can’t see the humour this swim occurred in the Olympics (and the fact he was swimming alone as the two other ‘C’ qualifiers were DQ’d for false starts) they really shouldn’t go into Youtube’s comedy section.


Damien said...

Hey Scott,

This article I read on swimnews addresses the very issues you are talking about in your past 2 posts here. Check it out!

Matt said...

There are many countries that have team qualifying criteria above-and-beyond what events (like Worlds or the Olympics) call for. Some of them even implement them so they don't feel their athlete's embarrass them internationally.

Scott said...

Well Matt, I'd like to know those countries. To my knowledge those countries who take their sport seriously enough to be embarrassed by poor performances typically just go to the next level and cheat. As always Canada doesn't seem to be able to make up its mind whether it wants to spend the money on a world-class athletics program or to simply pocket the money and dismiss our Olympic athletes as elitists.