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How to Become An Olympic Swimmer

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4x100 USA Men's Olympic Silver Medal Relay

Adrian Nathan, Ryan Lochte, Cullen Jones and Michael Phelps of the United States pose with the silver medals won during the Men's 4 x 100m Freestyle Relay

Jamie Squire/Getty Images
So you have Olympic Swimming dreams? GREAT! Not many make it, but if you never try, you never will!

How to become an Olympic Swimmer

The first step is to get swimming. You could join a local swim team with your park and recreation department, school, YMCA, or a USA Swimming club.

Most teams will have different levels based on swimmers ages, skills, and speeds. As you improve, you will advance to keep you challenged - and to keep you improving. Some swim programs specialize in younger or novice level swimmers, then suggest you move to a different team when you reach a certain level. Others are set-up as "cradle-to-grave" programs, offering learn-to-swim, novice competitive, advanced competitive, and masters (adult) lessons or practices.

Governing Body for the Sport

USA Swimming is national governing body for swimming in the USA. Fédération Internationale de Natation (FINA) is the international governing body for swimming and they manage swimming at the Olympic games. FINA also writes the rules used in the Olympic Games. Those same stroke rules are followed by USA Swimming.

Minimum Requirements to be on the Olympic Team

To make the USA Olympic Swimming Team, a swimmer must finish first or second at the USA Swimming Olympic Trials Swim Meet and they must be a US citizen. FINA rules allow a maximum team size of 52 swimmers (26 men and 26 women). Each country has a maximum of two entries in each of 26 individual events (13 men and 13 women) and one entry in each of the six relays (3 men and 3 women).

Besides individual country's possible Olympic Trials qualifying standards, there are A and B level minimum Olympic Swimming Qualifying standards for swimmers to take part in the Olympic Games. To quote the FINA Olympic qualifying procedures:

An NF/NOC (National Federation - a country) may enter a maximum of two (2) qualified athletes in each individual event if both entered athletes meet the A qualification standard for the respective event, or one (1) athlete per event if they have met the B qualification standard only.

(FINA Rule BL 8.3.6.1)

If a country's swimmers do not make a minimum Olympic qualifying time, they might be allowed a wild card entry:

National Federations/NOCs may enter swimmers regardless of time standard as follows:
  • having no swimmer qualified: one man and one woman
  • having one swimmer qualified: one swimmer of the other sex
provided that:
  • the swimmer(s) participated in the 12th FINA World Championships - Melbourne 2007
  • FINA will decide which swimmers will be invited to take part at the Olympic Games based on their performance.
(FINA Rule BL 8.3.6.2)

How to Qualify for Olympic Swimming

Assuming that a swimmer has an "A" Olympic Games Qualifying time, to make the USA Olympic Swimming Team, swimmers must:
  1. Earn a qualifying time for the Olympics Trials Swim Meet.
  2. Race at the Olympic Trials Swim Meet.
  3. Finish in the top two in an event at the trials.
  4. Swimmers that finish among the top four swimmers in the 100 or 200 freestyle events might qualify as relay-only swimmers for the Olympic squad.
  5. This depends upon the 26-swimmer per gender limit.
How do swimmers become Olympic Swimmers? Hard work, dedication, commitment, ability, skills, speed, endurance, and a little luck. The biggest factor, though, might be the dream. The desire. An Olympic swimmer has to have the goal, the vision, that being an Olympic swimmer is what they want to have happen. That is the real first step on the way to Olympic swimming.Swim On!
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