Olympic trials; a missed opportunity?

The 2004 Australian Olympic team is presented to the crowd at the end of their trials meet

The unprecedented demand for tickets for next year’s Olympic trials, which saw almost all tickets sold to pre-registered buyers last week, all but guaranteed full houses in March next year as Britain’s Olympic team begins to take shape. But despite this level of interest, the trials still seem on some levels to be a missed opportunity to develop swimming even further in the public consciousness.

The demand for tickets should not have come as a surprise given the huge over-subscription for Olympic tickets, the fact that this is the first British championships to be held in London for several years, since Crystal Palace was taken off the venue list, and the opportunity to see some of the world’s top swimmers in the new Olympic pool. However it does appear to have caught many people on the hop and left them without tickets. As a consequence many have been calling for the capacity of the venue to be increased to accommodate those not fortunate enough to have secured their seats; a group which includes the parents of many GB swimmers.

This chance to have showcased the sport in front of the biggest crowd ever seen for a British Championships is one missed opportunity, but not one of British Swimming’s making. The trials are using the legacy seating at the Aquatic centre, giving a seating capacity of 2,500. It’s a peculiarity that the trials, an official test event, aren’t using the full capacity, or a greater proportion of it, but it’s driven by some practical issues, however unpopular that makes the situation.

The heating and cooling systems in the pool have been designed and installed to service the permanent legacy facility only and hence don’t have capacity to also heat the huge temporary stands that flank the main pool hall. This is a sensible approach; to draw a crude analogy you wouldn’t install a bigger central heating boiler in your own home to heat a marquee in the garden for two weeks, one summer.

During the games themselves the temporary stands act like chimneys drawing warm air away from the pool deck and allowing the temperature to be maintained at the required level for competition and keeps the stands at an approriate temperature. As the trials take place in March the external temperatures are much lower than during the Games and, given that the heating cannot provide for the stands, that leaves the potential for the temperature at deck level to also drop as heat is lost through the seating areas.

Explains a LOCOG spokesman: “For the British Championships in March 2012, due to the colder outside temperature, some additional measures are being put in place to ensure the field of play is the correct temperature for athletes”

“Part of this includes the installation of a temporary environmental curtain that seals off part of the temporary section of the seating stands to retain heat within the building. This reduces the seating capacity but ensures the athletes will experience the best possible conditions to perform.”

So while the restricted capacity is unfortunate, it is something of a fait accompli for organisers. The trials though, do appear to represent a missed PR opportunity as a consequence of the selection policy adopted. That policy won’t see the team nominations finalised until after the ASA Championships in June of 2012, so the opportunity to parade the nominated team to the assembled home crowd and give them a rousing send off to the games, just as the Australians do at their trials, has been lost. It’s altogether possible that many swimmers simply won’t know if they have qualified or not, making any team presentation a little half baked.

The inclusion of different qualifying times for different qualifying places and labyrinthine relay selection criteria don’t help this situation either; given that many watching will not be well versed in the selection procedures and could well be attending their first trials, the announcers will need to be on their toes to keep the crowd informed as to selection successes.

None of which is to say the meet will not be great; undoubtedly the drama of Olympic selection in a fantastic new venue will generate a memorable atmosphere and some intense competition. There’s just a nagging feeling that it could have been even better. Only time will tell.

Editor’s note

Subsequent to the publishing of this article British Swimming have confirmed their intention to have a parade of selected athletes at the end of the trials meet.