Long or short?

I thought I knew swim well but that proved me so wrong when I first arrived in the US, Honolulu, Hawaii: the Olympics size pool, in fact, was less than half the size of 50 meters (25 yards is ). I was mortified and disappointed. I argued with the hotel … you know where that would lead to. Poor as China (in 1986) and tiny as Hong Kong, all our pools were 50 meters. I couldn’t imagine the richest country is so cheap on the pools. Yet, they manage to produce huge among of elite swimmers. 

I found the following on FB, regarding the long and short course swimming feuds:

Coleman Stewart ‘Cannot Understand USA Swimming’s Reasoning’ for Short Course Worlds Snub
By David Rieder/Swimming World 28 October 2021

In his first ISL match of the season, Coleman Stewart crushed the world record in the short course meters 100 backstroke. But despite all that, he was not named to USA Swimming’s team for the Short Course World Championships in December in Abu Dhabi, and Stewart is not being shy about his frustrations with the process that left him without a chance at a world title.

After USA Swimming’s announcement of the teams bound for Abu Dhabi Thursday afternoon, Stewart posted about his disappointment to Twitter and Instagram. He wrote, “I was not offered a spot on the short course worlds team by USA Swimming. As the current world record holder in a short course event, I cannot understand USA Swimming’s reasoning behind the decision.”

Stewart went on to criticize USA Swimming for picking short course teams based on long course results, calling it “an outdated selection process that has worked in the past, and may continue to work due to the depth of our swimmers, but it leaves off some of the best swimmers America has to offer. USA Swimming has a history of only caring for their top-tier long course swimmers, and leaving multiple short course American record holders off the team has only solidified this in my opinion.”

Previously, Stewart had revealed on the “Inside with Brett Hawke” podcast that he had not heard from USA Swimming about Short Course Worlds. Both Stewart and host Brett Hawke expressed surprise and frustration about the situation, especially considering his remarkable efforts over the past few months.

On August 29, Stewart swam a 48.33 to lop a quarter-second off Kliment Kolesnikov’s previous record, just one day after he clipped Matt Grevers’ previous American record in the event. Stewart, a former standout for the NC State Wolfpack, went on to have consistent success in the sprint backstroke events all season while representing the Cali Condors. He scored three wins in both the 50 and 100-meter distances plus one win in the 200 back during his month-long stint in Naples, Italy.

However, USA Swimming selected its team for Short Course Worlds from its official 2021-22 National Team, which was based entirely on long course swimming. According to the organization’s website, the National Team includes “the six (6) athletes with the fastest times in each individual Olympic event, from the combined results of all USA Swimming or FINA sanctioned competitions, will be named to the roster.” In many events, that resulted in a group similar to the top six finishers from Olympic Trials making the cut.

A group which, by the way, did include Stewart — just not for the 100 back. At Olympic Trials, the 23-year-old from York, Pa., tied for fourth in the 100 fly, missing the Olympic team by about six tenths, and he took eighth in a very tight 100 free final, coming even closer to making the team with six swimmers selected for relay purposes. But in the 100 back, Stewart placed 10th in the semifinals in 53.91. In comparison, Trials runnerup Hunter Armstrong swam a 52.48, and the sixth-fastest American in the event long course, Matt Grevers, has a top time this year of 53.18.

So based on those criteria, Stewart was never going to be selected for the 100 back. Maybe the 100 fly, should enough swimmers decline spots, but those spots went to Trials runnerup Tom Shields and the versatile Michael Andrew, the No. 2 swimmer in the country this year.

The truth is that Stewart is correct in his assertion USA Swimming has never prioritized Short Course Worlds. It has been years since a short course selection meet was held, and usually, the spots go to whichever top long course swimmers are interested in attending. That comes at the detriment of swimmers who excel in short course but are still seeking a long course breakthrough — like Stewart and Beata Nelson. Nelson had eight individual wins for the Cali Condors this ISL season, and in that span, she broke the American record in the 100 IM (57.90) and fell just a half-second short of Missy Franklin’s decade-old record in the 200 back.

Nelson would undoubtedly be a gold-medal contender in Abu Dhabi, but instead, the American representatives in the 200 back will be Rhyan White and Isabelle Stadden, and Melanie Margalis and Abbey Weitzeil will swim the 100 IM. The first three are excellent swimmers in their respective events, but none have been racing in the ISL all year and accumulating valuable short course meters experience. Weitzeil has been in the ISL, but she is a sprint freestyler, maybe good for a 50 fly thrown into the mix.

Most years, the Short Course Worlds are sparsely attended among American and international swimmers. Short course world titles and medals simply do not carry the gravitas of their long course cousins. Same thing with short course records, since many top athletes never mess with short course meters. In 2021, the will be even more down than usual following off the Olympics and the COVID-19 pandemic. Australia has already announced it will not send a representative team.

Still, the selection criteria just lack some logic. Especially with so much more short course meters racing to be had in this age of the ISL, why not give the best short course swimmers in the world a chance at some international glory, a chance to bolster their résumé and maybe pick up some cash along the way? That’s a chance that Stewart and others would certainly sign up for.

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