A Swimmer’s Thoughts On The Commonwealth Games Qualifying Times

By a New Zealand Swimmer

Note: We received this article from a current New Zealand swimmer who wishes to remain anonymous

Swimming New Zealand has recently released the qualifying criteria for the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland.  On seeing the required times, three thoughts come to mind.

(1)  The times are really fast!

(2)  Why are the times so fast?

(3)  Why are there no 50m qualifying times except for the 50m free?

The qualifying times SNZ has posted are indeed very fast.  The men’s 200 and 400 free; women’s 50, 200, 400, and 800 free, 100 and 200 back, 100 and 200 breast, 100 fly, and 200 I.M are all faster than the FINA A times set for the 2012 Olympics, while the men’s 100 breast times are exactly the same qualifying times.  The men’s 200 and 400  free, 100 and 200 breast, 100 fly, 200 and 400 I.M; women’s 50, 100, 200, 400, and 800 free, 100 and 200 back, 100 and 200 breast, 100 fly, and 200 and 400 I.M. are all faster than the FINA A times required for the World Champs.  FINA is not known for setting easy times, and yet SNZ is setting even harder times.  SNZ makes it sound easy, though:

More than half of the men’s qualifying times for Glasgow are actually slower than for the recent world championships and while most of the women’s qualifying times are slightly faster, they are adjusted based on the current improving world standards of female swimmers from Commonwealth countries.

I would have expected these qualifying times to be slower than the World Champs qualifying times because there are no Americans, Chinese, Russians or French at the Commonwealth Games.  At World Champs, 52% of the men’s medals and 40% of the women’s medals were won by these four countries.  That’s not even mentioning the other European and Asian countries that aren’t members of the Commonwealth.

Now, let’s look at NZ swimmers compared to these times set by SNZ.  Only 17/26 NZ records are even within those qualifying times, and some of those swimmers are no longer swimming (i.e. Moss Burmester, Natalie Wiegersma, etc.).  If you take NZ records by current swimmers, we have five swimmers (Matt Stanley, Gareth Kean, Glenn Snyders, Hayley Palmer, and Lauren Boyle) qualified in 11 events (men’s 200 and 400 free, 100 and 200 back, 100 and 200 breast; and women’s 50, 100, 200, 400, and 800 free).  If you take the times that were swum at the 2013 NZ Open Champs, we only have four swimmers (Matt Stanley, Gareth Kean, Glenn Snyders, and Lauren Boyle) qualified in six events (men’s 200 free, 100 and 200 back, 100 breast; and women’s 400 and 800 free).  SNZ admits this quite freely:

Half of the successful world championship qualifying times recorded at this year’s national championships were faster than the required Commonwealth Games standard with the remainder only fractionally outside.

So, why are the times so fast? Here’s what SNZ said in an article that can be found on the SNZ website and NZ Herald’s website:

We have no issue with the criteria for the Commonwealth Games. Glasgow is not a development meet. It is our pinnacle event for 2014 and we would want our swimmers to be at this level if they wish to be successful in Glasgow and look forward to the Rio Olympics. Our aim is for our swimmers to continue to improve from last year to this year to next year and so on. If we want to be competitive and make finals in Rio in 2016, then achieving a top-six time in the Commonwealth based on times from last year is a realistic target.

Well, obviously they have no issue, or they wouldn’t have posted the times.  My question is, do the swimmers have an issue with them?  With only five swimmers qualified, I would think yes.  I understand that Glasgow is not supposed to be a development meet.  But most of the swimmers that rank in the top two or three in NZ are not exactly what you would consider flunkies.  Most of them have 800 FINA points or more.  Several have been to international meets, whether it is Junior Pan Pacs, Oceana Champs, World Cup, Mare Nostrum, or World Champs.

In one sentence they’re saying that it’s the peak event for 2014, and in the next they’re saying it’s preparation for Rio.  If it’s the peak event for 2014, wouldn’t they want as many swimmers as possible to go?  Having a team of five swimmers isn’t a very good look.  If they’re wanting it for preparation for Rio, yes, I can see why they would want at least a top-6 finish at Commonwealths.  But, that doesn’t mean that you need to have a top-6 finish to qualify for the Games.

Demanding qualifying times also go to the issue of not soft-soaping swimmers.
If they are expected to perform on the big stages, they need to prove they have the talent to do so before they get there, rather than sending swimmers off on a wing and a prayer.

I take this to mean that SNZ is afraid to spend money on swimmers they don’t think will make finals.  Fair enough.  However, I wonder if they’ve ever considered implanting a program where, if the swimmers go one time they receive full funding, if they go a slightly slower time, they receive partial funding, and if they go an even slower time, they may go, but they have to pay their own way.  That is, of course, up to the maximum of 3 swimmers per event.  That would save them money, and yet rising swimmers would still have an opportunity to go.  I’m sure that some swimmers would be stoked to be able to go, even if they had to do a little bit of fundraising to go. Who knows?  A swimmer might surprise everyone and do really well at the Games.  But if SNZ never let them go, how can we know how they could have done?

They could also do something like what England has done.  Basically, they are sending 36 swimmers, with a maximum of three per event.  They have times, and the swimmers inside those times get picked first.  Then they pick the swimmers closest to the said times, working their way out.  That seems like a pretty good system, too.

Now for my third thought.  Why are there no 50 back, breast, or fly times?  They have these events at Commonwealths.  In fact, Glenn Snyders won silver in the 50 breast in 2010.  Will no one swim 50’s for NZ at Commonwealths?  Or if you qualify in the 100 of your stroke will you get to swim the 50 as well?  I suspect the reason that there are no 50 qualifying times is that they aren’t Olympic events.  But they have them at every other major meet in the world.  I wouldn’t be surprised if they even have them at the Olympics soon.  Just because someone can only sprint doesn’t mean they should be denied the right to go to the Commonwealth Games.

  • Rhi Jeffrey

    Hey David. Where are the time standards posted? I can’t find them on the SNZ website…. Hope things are going well!!

  • S.

    This lack of acknowledgement of 50m events is flat out discrimination. Not recognising the fact it requires specialised training to execute one well. And that swimmers may only be suited to this distance. Swimming Nz decides it is up to them to deny someone the fair chance to contest a medal that is given out for these 50s. I bet Usain Bolt doesn’t have to run the 400m at Jamaican nationals to run 100m at the Commonwealth’s for his country.

  • Fletch

    I agree with S. The Commonwealth Games has a special place in the history of New Zealand sport. This is our ‘family’ event and setting standards for selection so high diminishes the legacy. Who can ever forget the venal nature of Jan Camerons selection policies where because of her personal antipathy toward former world record holder Zoe Baker an acknowledged 50m specialist, she set the standard for non-Olympic 50 m achievement at a huge 1000 FINA Points. Emily Thomas and others lost their motivation and left the sport because of that and we were denied the privilege of seeing them excel. On the said Jan Cameron, I do hope we don’t have to endure her nauseating commentary on Sky Sport over the performance of athletes who she would quite happily destroy ever again.