Larry Herr Explains Rationale Behind Trials Cuts


Photo of the start of the 50 free at 2012 Trials. (Large)By Jim Rusnak//Director of Media Properties

Today, USA Swimming announced its time standards for the 2016 Olympic Trials.


Performance Database Director Larry Herr took some time to explain the process of how these time standards were determined, and how he sees the meet shaping up and filling out over the next two years.


How does USA Swimming decide what the cuts will be in each event? What is the process?
There are a variety of steps that were considered – things like balance between the events, making sure we had between 55 and 65 people initially qualified in each event, and that we had a balance between genders. So event, genders – a total perspective. 


Other things that were considered: looking at the 2012 standards, looking at the 2014 standards for Nationals, the standards for the past Olympic Trials and then seeing how much faster the sport has gotten since then. In general, there was a 1 percent improvement in cuts from 2012 to 2016. 


Other factors were things like how long the qualifying period is going to be. We consider those who are there are for the legitimate purpose of making the team and those who are there to get an experience at Trials. We want to provide an opportunity for both of those groups to give them the optimum environment to make the team and to kind of get introduced and have a chance to participate in an Olympic Trials. 


There’s a blend of math and art that went into coming up with what the standards were. Once we set things up, we kind of bounced some ideas off coaches to ask them, “How does this feel to you? Are we setting the standards appropriately and making the adjustments appropriately to reflect the sport?” And then they use their experience, rather than a numeric or mathematical formula, to provide checks and balances for the system.


Are all the events faster across the board this time?
Yes, all the events are faster by about 1 percent.


Who’s ultimately responsible for coming up with these cuts?
The senior development committee has a small influence. But the bigger influence is the National Team Director and the Steering Committee. Those are the two parties. Ultimately, it’s (National Team Director) Frank Busch’s decision to accept these standards or make adjustments to the standards. He drives the decision-making process for how big the meet is going to be, and how that balance should exist between the number of swimmers in each event. 


As you mentioned, there are swimmers who are there for the Olympic Trials experience, and others who are there with a serious shot at making the team. How do you strike that balance in establishing these cuts?
It’s not easy. This is where the art kind of comes in. We look at the past four or five trials, and we look and see who made the team, and where they were seeded in their events. If we go back, I think the lowest- or slowest-seeded swimmer who made the team in2008 was 26th. I think on average, those who are there to make the team are usually ranked in the top 16 to 24, and then the others are there for the experience.  Let me give you an example of a person who was there for the experience, and that was Missy Franklin in 2008. She swam three races – the 50 free, 100 free and 200 IM. Was 37th 39th and 41st in her three races, respectively, and it set her up to have a great 2012. She learned from the experience, Todd Schmitz, her coach, learned a great deal from the experience. It was both their first times to compete at Olympic Trials, and they were able to take that experience from 2008 and apply it for a great 2012. 


Overall, is there a target number of swimmers you’re trying to have qualify for this meet?
There is. We’re trying to get between 1300 and 1400 swimmers qualified to participate in the competition. The last Olympic Trials in 2012 was the biggest Olympic Trials we’ve ever had. We had over 1850 swimmers – probably a little bit too high of a number, but the facility was able to handle it. The competition went off well. There were a few little concerns about the size, but we do the best we can and have input from a variety of people. If we end up with 1800 people again, that just means USA Swimming – the sport in the United States – has gotten that much better, and that’s a great problem to have. We think we made the standards this time around so we can hit our target of 1300 to 1400 swimmers. 


What does qualification look like at this point?
There’s756 swimmers who are currently qualified. The qualifying period started July 30, 2014, the first day of Juniors. It will go through the close of the entry date. There’s kind of room to grow to 1400. If there’s more than that, then so be it. That’s great. In 2012 when we announced the standards, there were a little over 850 who were qualified, and we ended up with a meet of 1800. There were a lot of factors, but it’s always a little unpredictable. Once you set the standards, the coaches and athletes respond by raising the bar, and they’ll find a way to get those standards and get to the best meet the U.S. holds every four years.