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.


  1. I once thought about starting a team called Underdog. Maybe I should follow through and do it one day.

  2. Paul,
    Great information here. It would be interesting to look at this in conjunction with how many of the previous quad's olympians were competing in the next olympics. Thanks for a great blog.