The Olympic Selection Conundrum – How Britain’s swimmers get to London

Fran Halsall
Fran Halsall - focussed on trials

British Swimming’s selection policy for the Olympics sets out how Britain’s swimmers are going to earn themselves a coveted spot on the team for London 2012. There are a variety of ways this can be achieved with a number of different possible outcomes. While in part it’s simple there are a number of nuances in the policy, so below we’ll try and summarise the routes to London and clarify how the team should be picked.

The easy way

In reality, there’s no such thing as an easy way, but to be certain of a spot, win your event at the Olympic trials in March and swim faster than the FINA A qualifying time and you are home and hosed. Event winners faster than this standard will find themselves automatically on the way to the Games.

Based on 2011 form, this route should see most event winners guaranteed spots, the potential exceptions coming in the women’s 100m breaststroke, men’s 100m freestyle and, perhaps surprisingly, the men’s 100m breaststroke. In these events the winners will need to improve on last year’s performance to be sure of their places.

The slightly tougher way

Come second in your event at trials but swim faster than the Olympic Qualifying Time set by British Swimming, which is equivalent to the world top 16 time as at 1st September 2011 and you too should be guaranteed an Olympic berth. There is a caveat however; more of that later.

Again using 2011 form, there should be a number of second spots filled in March, but by no means all. Using times from the 2011 world rankings, the following numbers of swimmers make the grade for one of the two initial selection criteria

Event Women Men
50 Freestyle 1 1 1 1
100 Freestyle 1 1 0 0
200 Freestyle 3 0 2 1
400 Freestyle 4 4 2 0
800 Freestyle 5 2
1500 Freestyle 2 1
100 Butterfly 3 3 1 1
200 Butterfly 3 3 2 1
100 Backstroke 3 2 1 1
200 Backstroke 2 1 3 2
100 Breaststroke 0 0 0 0
200 Breaststroke 1 0 3 3
200 IM 2 1 2 2
400 IM 2 2 3 2

This means that in some events, barring improvements on last year’s performances, there may still be spots remaining after the conclusion of the trials.

A full breakdown of who made the grade last year is shown here.

The fall back position

If places remain in an event, and it should be expected that the numbers will be limited, they will be filled following the ASA National Championships in June. Selection is not only tied to event results in Sheffield, but empty spots will be filled by the fastest swimmer under the FINA A time in a given event after results from Sheffield are combined with the finals performance of swimmers already selected at the trials. This group is likely to include a number of swimmers who finished second at trials but didn’t squeeze under the Olympic qualifying time and those selected for relays looking to add an individual swim.

Pray for a miracle

If places still remain, given how selection has gone in previous years and the way the policy is written, it’s still possible that spots may be offered to swimmers who meet the FINA qualification standard, but who have not performed on the right days, provided the total team size doesn’t exceed 26 men and 26 women. If you’ve got to this point without being selected you really are relying on a selectorial whim though and also on there being spaces left at the games themselves. FINA are limited to 900 swimmers in total so will offer any left over spaces to the highest ranked swimmers who didn’t make the FINA A time. This is not a route that Brtiain would expect to be using so don’t hold your breath.


There is one other selection route open only to those who finished in the top 4 at the 2011 World championships. Provided they have demonstrated their fitness in 2012, these swimmers, and there are only five of them, could be selected ahead of swimmers who would otherwise have qualified at trials by finishing second in a time faster than the Olympic Qualifying Time.

It’s a provision that seems unlikely to be used, but it means that barring injury we are almost certain to see Rebecca Adlington, Hannah Miley, Fran Halsall, Ellen Gandy and James Goddard at the Olympics.


Britain qualified a full complement of six relay teams for London at last year’s World Championships so there is potential for a number of swimmers to get added to the team roster as relay alternates or to make up quartets. Despite the caveats writtin into the policy for relay selection it seems unthinable that Britain will not have 6 relay squads at the games.

For the medley relays, it’s first-past-the-post in each individual event provided you are selected anyway. If there are no qualifiers in the individual 100m events, then the winner at trials can be added provided they have swum faster than the FINA B time (this is a FINA rule). However the FINA B time is relatively soft so this should not prove to be any problem.

The freestyle relays are not so straightforward. In both the 4 x 100m and 4 x 200m teams the fastest four swimmers at trials from heats, semis and final will be selected on time only unlike individual events which are selected on final results only. This could hypothetically mean the odd situation of a relay team being selected without the top two swimmers from the final.

There is then scope for up to 2 further swimmers to be added to each of the squads following ASA Nationals, but the policy does not require these to be the next two fastest available swimmers. This could be an interesting way for the British Swimming hierarchy to give experience to young up and coming swimmers with an eye on 2016, particularly if the overall squad already includes swimmers who could slot into a freestyle relay – for example Liam Tancock or Hannah Miley – reducing the need for relay alternates.

As with most British teams of recent times, anyone on the squad can challenge for a relay spot, so expect there to be a number of relay challenges and changes to the team closer to the event.

So there you have it; that’s how the 52 potential spots at London 2012 will be filled. There will undoubtedly be twists and turns along the way, but selection will not be easy and the swimmers who get spots will surely have earned them.

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