Olympic Selection Series: How Australia’s Shadow Team Will Leap To Life As Dolphins

Australia's big hitters of 2015: clockwise from top left - Bronte Campbell, Cameron McEvoy, Emily Seebohm, Cate Campbell, the women's 4x100m free team, and Mitch Larkin - all images by Patrick B. Kraemer

In the second of a series of articles on the wide gap in standards and selection processes for swimming at the Olympic Games, we turn to Australia, a nation with a serious and complex process, procedure and policy behind what ends in a fairly straightforward thumbs up or thumbs down in most cases.

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In the second of a series of articles on the wide gap in standards and selection processes for swimming at the Olympic Games, we turn to Australia, a nation with a serious and complex process, procedure and policy behind what ends in a fairly straightforward thumbs up or thumbs down in most cases.



Craig makes a very valid point; nobody is “on the plane” until they/their team is “ratified” by their national Olympic body. In most “developed” countries, this is usually a “rubber stamping” but in smaller and poorer nations; this is often far from a “done deal”.

Lack of $$$ or perceived “lack of competitiveness”/”just making up the numbers” are the most frequent knock-backs. This, of course, will not stop the relevant “blazers” from making the trip …. but, of course, they aren’t the ones paying for it !

With regards to these AUS criteria; there is really little change to the previous regime. There has always been “discretion” available to fill vacant quotas however in recent times there have generally been full quotas for almost all individual events. However they DID utilise this for London in the M1500.

There most certainly will be due caution exercised with regards to “relay only” selections which there will have to be in the cases of both sets of FS relays. However, they are fortunate enough that they probably will not have to utilise their full allowance given the likely presence in these relays of swimmers already qualified in individual events (cases in point McKeonE, Seebohm, potentially Wilson or Coutts).

It WILL be interesting to see how stringently, if at all, Verharen and/or HPM may monitor those on the “Shadow Team” who managed to jump through the requisite hoops at Trials but whose international records over an extended period of years have proved to be “equivocal” to say the least.

clive rushton

I’m posting my thoughts as two separate posts; this first one specific to the article on Australia and the second as comments on selection procedures in general.

The Australian document contains some perplexing and worrying detail. And, as usual these days, everyone would be better served if it was in plain English.

As you rightly point out the insistence of the NOCs to insist that “they” “select” the team is driven more by bureaucratic pride than performance effectiveness.

In addition to insisting that they select the team the AOC have also obviously enforced that THEY can add to SALs nominations for the “shadow” team. Ridiculous.

Craig, you say that, “we all know the shadow team is the team” but, in fact, it’s not anywhere near that. The Shadow team is known in other countries as “the long list” which is sent to the NOC months in advance of any trials or tentative selection process. It’s a bureaucratic convenience for the NOC so that they can start to populate their databases with personal details of anyone who may, remotely make the actual team. Section 2 (5) of the SAL document restricts the final nominations to members of this long list so anyone making a bolt-out-of-the-blue breakthrough swim at the trials has a problem. However, the potential Australian Shadow team is a mighty big team; the criteria are mind-bogglingly complex and mind-bogglingly wide.

Sections 1 – (2) (a) and (b) are almost a self-perpetuating loop. How many of the Kazan team were not in the 4 or 8 (as listed) places finishes at the 2015 championships?

1 – (3) makes a nonsense of 1 – (2) (a), (b), and (c). If you delete the whole of 1 – (2) and operate only 1 – (3) you potentially have exactly the same list.

2 – (1) means that EVERY entrant at the 2016 trials will be nominated to the AOC!

2 – (2) is the “real” nomination list.

2 – (3), the “Ian Thorpe clause”, over-rides all the clauses in section 2. It is expanded in section 3.

2 – (4) is another contraction of the nomination list – those who have made the time ‘cut’. The times are worryingly called “benchmarks” which implies that future change has been anticipated. See section 5 for more evidence of this.

I firmly believe that AUS will end up selecting the ‘right’ swimmers but the process they are having to, or choose to undergo is tortuous.

All in all, the hoops that NGBs have to jump through because of NOC bureaucracy and the popularity of legal challenges has sent the verbiage of these documents into borderline unintelligible.

clive rushton

This Olympic Selection Series has all the makings of a classic for all teams, whether at national or local level.

At national level the anticipation of legal challenges adds reams of ‘padding’ to what should be a straightforward and relatively simple process.

I have personal experience of many tribunals brought about by swimmers challenging non-selection. None of them were successful although we (NSO), or I, were criticized by at least one tribunal report for what amounted to a “lack of clarity”. The tribunal members were 100% eminently non-swimming folk.

There are some principles which I see applying at all levels:

Principle 1: Qualifying standards should reflect the requirements to hit the realistic, meet-specific goal of the selecting body, i.e. medals, finals, semi-finals/top 16 etc.

Principle 2: Qualifying standards should be equal and fair across all events. E.g. there should not be incompatible standards between men’s 100 freestyle and women’s 200 breaststroke. It may seem axiomatic that males and females should be treated equally but, as we know and will see in Rio, that is not always the case.

Principle 3: The first level of selections should be 100% objective. When the swimmer hits the touchpad they should know yes/no, in/out.

If the published standard is, 1:06.23, then 1:06.24 doesn’t make it. Full stop. I have been on the receiving end of immense pressure to ‘ease’ the published requirements after the race. Not going to happen. If 1:06.24 is OK then why wasn’t the standard 1:06.24 in the first place? And if 1:06.24 is OK then why not 1:06.25?

I would go so far as to say that FINA/IOC should mandate objectivity for its ‘first layer’ of selections for all countries. Objectivity is a choice at the moment.

A personal opinion here – first levels of selection should be sudden death trials. Qualifying should be A final only, or A taking precedence over B over SF over heats etc. Multiple qualifying opportunities do not do the swimmer any favors. They simply give the swimmer too much room for excuses; tapering once, return to training, re-taper, return to training, re-re-taper ….. eventually the swimmer is a nervous wreck, incapable of performing at the event even if they do eventually make the cut. I’ve seen it happen.

Once the first level of selection is in place an option presents itself which potentially takes selection into the area of subjectivity: ‘Star’ swimmers can be protected to a certain extent. This applies to ‘small’ countries more than ‘big’ countries but the justification is the same. If a team has one medal chance from a stand-out performer who is caught in an unavoidable traffic jam on the way to the pool for the heats of their main event then they will not qualify for the final and they will not achieve the qualifying standard.
There is a strong case to be made for a ‘get-out’ clause allowing illness/injury/unavoidable circumstances which prevent the swimmer from competing at the trials. Note, this should not apply to a ‘top’ swimmer who competes but then fails – that’s part of the joy of trials.
The injury/illness should be communicated to the Federation prior to the trials after which the Federation should appoint their own medical team to verify the veracity of the problem and the potential effect on future performance. The unavoidable circumstance must be explained in full complete with detailed evidence. I had these clauses operating at national level 12 or more years ago.

Consideration under these circumstances should also strive to be as objective as possible:

– The prior performance of the ‘star’ should be of an exceptionally high standard – significantly higher than the official qualifying standard. This elevated standard should be published as part of the overall criteria, not made up to match circumstances.
– It should have been achieved within a relatively short time frame prior to the trials.

Which brings me to:

Principle 4: ‘Stars’ considered under the injury etc. option cannot ‘bump off’ a swimmer who has qualified under the regular trials criteria. In other words if the qualifying standard is FINA A and two swimmers achieve that at the trials then the event is ‘closed’. If one or no swimmers achieve the standard then the event can still be deemed ‘open’ and the injured swimmer can be considered.

Principle 5: Yes, of course, you have to qualify everything with the NOC/eligibility/attend camps/bring the sport into disrepute clauses, so what could be a simple one pager will morph into a document resembling Harry Potter 7. Thank you lawyers, thank you society bound in entitlement.

Principle 6: No other criteria or conditions should apply. No loopholes for favoritism, nepotism, ‘massaging’ results or any of the other thousand and one cunning plans which we have all seen play out across some parts of the world.

Craig Lord

Good points Clive. Thanks


Clive’s very valid points, especially the second set have been moved on to another topic and thread so I will only make one comment on them before concentrating on the actual times standards and Craig’s prognosis.

With regards to the volume of “fine print”, the criticism is very just. SAL has obviously sought to cross every box required by AOC plus “cover off” all foreseeable eventualities …. and ended up with this. In order to “take the lawyers” out of the picture, they have produced a document that very nearly needs a lawyer to decipher.

With regards to the time standards; by and large they can be described as “challenging but achievable”. In some cases, they could have been tougher/set higher without realistically precluding individual & even relay qualifiers.

In others, I would concur with Craig that a single AUS qualifier is the most likely outcome with a strong likelihood of a couple of “vacant events”. If that is how Trials “pan out”, then so be it; that is the state of play of AUS Swimming.


How do I see AUS stacking up for Rio at this point of time (end of Oct 2015) ?

AUS won a total of 14 medals in Olympic medals in Kazan; 7 Gold 3 Silver 4 Bronze and I will use these performances as my barometer.

Can this tally be matched or surpassed in Rio. Possible, of course, but this would be highly optimistic. Firstly, the potential for further medals do look somewhat limited. The only possibilities I see are:

– the W4X200 was weakened in Kazan. They may be stronger in Rio with the return of Palmer & Elmslie

– Ashwood is potentially “thereabouts” for a minor medal in the W800.

– Horton’s best times could see him in the mix for 400/1500 but he has to prove he can handle big time international competition.

– A fit Magnussen COULD re-enter the M100FS medal calculation but it may be a case of one-in/one-out with McEvoy

You then have some minor medals in Kazan that could be seen as “rubbery”; ie not particularly secure bets. The most notable of these I see as being:

– M4X200 (bronze). The USA is likely to be significantly stronger in Rio and the Euro teams who were sub-standard in Kazan are likely to have their acts far more together next year

– Ashwood W400FS(bronze). A very creditable performance and deserving of a medal but I feel the minor medal race behind Ledecky is going to be fierce.

– both MED relays (M-silver/W-bronze). TBH, the “bookends” of both of these relays are the best in either events but in Kazan, they were both left in a position of having to save a medal due to weaknesses on fly (both relays & BRS-women). There is reason to think the fly leg may be remedied to a large extent with the women but both are still looking to have to play “catch-up”

What is my “bottom line”/most conservative read ?

W4X100; the only event where AUS has a position of clear dominance and gap (2 sec) over competition and where it would appear something internal (illness/injury taking one or both Campbells out OR a “break”) more likely to derail them than opposition – GOLD

Either Campbell COULD win W50FS but MEDAL a safer bet. Ditto for W100FS.

Seebohm clear favourite for W100Back but has not at this point the gap on the field to make that a secure bet. MEDAL bottom line.

Larkin won both men’s Back in Kazan. I see the 200 as being the more secure bet both for Gold and MEDAL.

My bottom line is 5 medals with 1 Gold.

Expanding into “realistic chances” but still erring on conservative; there are good grounds for upgrading Seebohm in 100Back from medal to Gold and mark her down as Medal over 200. Likewise Larkin could upgrade from medal to Gold over 200 and Medal in 100.

Upgrading either Campbell to Gold over 100 is somewhere I’m not wanting to tread at this point unless they start pushing into 52lows over the AUS season but both medalling has to be seen as a strong scenario.

That raises to 8 medals with the strong potential of 3 golds.

The next tier, those of strong medal chances albeit not as secure as those above:
– Wilson W100Back
– Men’s 100FS

Both MED relays are legitimate medal chances but both have very strong cautionary notes attached.

My realistic “top side” would be 12 medals; 10-11 probably more likely. Gold most likely 3-4, any more that 5 would surprise.

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