Next stop, the Olympics

The US Olympic Swimming Trials have concluded, so, now what? Many great questions have come through my inbox from readers, which I’ll address in this piece, as to what happens next for the swimmers who have qualified for the Olympics and their families.

1) What is the protocol for the swimmers who have made the Olympic team?

As a swimmer, if you are a contender for the Olympic Games, you arrange to have your passport ready and up-to-date before leaving for the Swimming Trials.  After officially making the team, the first stop, drug testing and processing — paper work filled out, Visas complete (if needed) and sizes given for team outfitting.  If the swimmer qualifies early in the meet, they relax and wait until the conclusion of the Trials, when on the last night, the entire team is introduced.  Some families see their swimmer throughout the meet, but for those who don’t, like our family, this is the night when we have dinner together and relax.

The next morning, there is a team workout and meeting for the swimmers and the coaches.  In year’s past, it’s been straight on to Team Training Camp, but this year, the Olympians were able to go home for a few days before reporting to camp.  After a week at camp in Tennessee, the team will travel to France, where they will spend another week acclimating to the time difference and prepare for their trip to the Olympic Village in London, England.  The swimming events begin July 28, 2012, the day after the Opening Ceremonies and conclude August 4, 2012.  It is up to the athlete (and their family for the younger swimmers) if they stay in the village through Closing Ceremonies or leave.  With approximately 10,500 athletes from all over the world, athletes and coaches alike will tell you that the Village can get wild. Athletes are the only individuals permitted in the Olympic Village, and must have proper credentials.  Family members and friends are not allowed in the Village.

2) If the families have an athlete headed to the Games, what do they do? They only have three weeks to plan!

USA Swimming and the United States Olympic Committee are a huge help to the athlete’s family.  The USOC offers two tickets to the family on the day their athlete swims and USA Swimming secures a block of rooms, in several hotels from which the parents, siblings and loved ones, can choose.  Unless covered by an athlete’s sponsor, it is the family’s responsibility to cover the cost of the flight and hotel.  If the family wants to purchase more tickets for other days or events, it is up to them to secure.  However, this Olympics Games is the toughest, and most expensive, in recent Olympics.  Tickets are 7 times the cost they were in Beijing.

3) Do the USA families all sit together at the Olympics?

Unfortunately, not. In years past, there have been different groups of tickets, so some families sit together in one section and another group of families in another section.  In Athens, we had the same seat each session, like we did at the Olympic Trials in Omaha.  However, in Beijing, we sat in a different seat for each race — it’s just the way the tickets worked out.  Sponsors also have their own blocks of tickets, which mixes up seating a bit.  If a family acquires their tickets from the USOC, it is highly likely that other families will be in the same section.  If the tickets come from sponsors, the family of the athlete will be in the section with that particular sponsors and their VIP guests.

4) Are the Olympic Trials and the Olympic Games essentially the same from a swimming standpoint?

Yes and no.  The swimming events are the same, so the format of Trials is the exact same as the Olympic Games, with one exception — relays.  There are no relay races swum at the Trials, but they are at the Olympics, and always the last event of the night.  Similar to the individual events over 400 meters,  the relays are swum twice – once in the morning and once in the evening at Finals. (The 50, 100 and 200 meter events are swum three times for those who qualify — see here for greater explanation) They take six swimmers for the relay teams.  The two fastest in the individual event will automatically swim in the Finals relay and have the chance to stand on the podium to accept the medal.  The four remaining swimmers will swim in the prelims, with the fastest two morning times advancing to the Finals to swim with their teammates. The 4×100 Individual Medley relay has eight swimmers.  The swimmer who competes in the morning relay swim has the second fastest time in the race at the Olympics, with the fastest American swimming in the Final heat.  For example, Tyler McGill would swim the 100 butterfly leg in the morning, since he qualified in the second place position at Trials, and Michael Phelps would swim in the Final heat because he won the event.  The same is true for the backstroke, breaststroke and freestyle legs.  This could change if the individual who was second at Trials bests the swimmer who took first, securing their spot on the night swim at Finals.

The major difference between Trials and the Olympics is the security.  Not unlike an airport, all attendees must go through a metal detector and have their bags screened on conveyor belt.  No liquids over 100ml are permitted and food is only allowed if it fits inside your bag, which cannot be larger than 25 litre capacity and must be soft sided.  Other items not permitted: knives, large flags, handguns, drugs and explosive materials.  Attendees are permitted to carry in with them an empty water bottle, which they can fill once inside the Olympic Park — a fenced in area that contains all of the Olympic venues.  (And yes, inside Olympic Park, Visa is the only card accepted at the games!)

Keep the questions coming!

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