Sunday, January 16, 2011

"The Underdog's Advantage"

Earning a spot on the United States Olympic Swimming Team is an extremely difficult task. It’s even more difficult to earn, from one quadrennial to the next, a second consecutive placement on a U.S. team. Does the newcomer have a statistical advantage when it comes to makeing the U.S. Olmypic Swim Team? Here are the numbers, from the years 1988 through 2008:

4 of 24 men repeat from 1984 to 1988
6 of 19 women repeat from 1984 to 1988

9 of 24 men repeat from 1988 to 1992
3 of 20 women repeat from 1988-1992

5 of 23 men repeat from 1992-1996
3 of 20 women repeat from 1992-1996

4 of 19 men repeat from 1996-2000
5 of 24 women repeat from 1996-2000

11 of 21 men repeat from 2000-2004
5 of 22 women repeat from 2000-2004

11 of 22 men repeat from 2004-2008
5 of 21 women repeat from 2004-2008

The overall percentages are telling: the U.S. Olympic Swimming Team is made of many first-time Olympians, and very few repeat Olympians. In a given year about 66% of the men and 80% of the women are “new Olympians” – not having been a part of the previous Olympic Team, but then earning a spot.

Some of these “new Olympians” are the young athletes, whose rapid improvement through the Olympic year takes everyone by surprise; some are the older athletes who has been hanging around for a few years just waiting to burst on the scene at Olympic Trials; and in a few cases (Morales, Torres, Jendrick, etc) there are those who have been there before – then after skipping a quad have come back into the fold for another selection to the team.

Of course, making the team is still a monumental task whether you've been there before or not. It takes a ton of training and preparation -- and it takes an ultra-tough, determined athlete. But it happens, and it happens quite a bit when an athlete wills themselves out of obscurity and onto the U.S. Olympic Team.

Don’t consider yourself a legitmate contender for the team in 2012? Re-evaluate your expectations. Your chances may be better than you think.

….stay tuned for my next blog entry, which will address the United States’ Olympic veterans – and the amount of hardware collected by these exceptional athletes during their second and third shots at the Games.