How to Make the Olympic Team

There are few things that are weirder than trying to explain to a stranger than how our Olympic Team is selected.  Because we are a team sport with both small boats and big boats, we have to run a set of selection procedures that can accommodate events with one or two people, and also four or eight people.  We have to allow opportunity for athletes outside the training center system to “break in” to the camps through performance.  And we have to have methods that are transparent and fair while also being both objective and subjective.

The US Team’s selection procedures have changed more in the past three years than they have in the last decade.  There were some big changes made at the beginning of this quadrennium, including moving all women’s camp selection to the pairs (from a combination of pairs, singles and doubles), and the exodus of all men’s sculling from the camp system. Some of these changes have worked, some have yet to show promise.  But they have all led to the development of the 2016 selection procedures: the document that will guide our athletes’ selection to the Team that will race in Rio.

I spent countless hours this spring and summer working on the development of this document.  I stressed and swore and had meetings and phone calls and polled athletes and coaches all over the country to make sure that we ended up with a document that best fit the needs of our athletes in order for them to have their best possible Olympic year.  In the end, when it came time for the High Performance Committee to approve the 2016 procedures, I did not approve them.   I voted no.  I felt that there were many points in the 2016 procedures that were not consistent with our selection procedures from the past several years, and that testing new procedures and other variables in the Olympic year was a risk that was not worth taking.  Such as:

  • Two different sets of selection procedures for small boat events (pairs vs. singles & doubles)
  • New untested location for Olympic Trials without clear data on course fairness for elite selection regattas
  • Olympic Trials location with no developed facilities (boat storage, running water, toilets, finish line tower etc.)
  • Switch to straight trial system for singles and doubles (no qualification requirement at World Cup)

As an athlete, there is little I value more than routine and consistency.  I fought hard for these things to be included in our 2016 procedures, and in the end was not able to find any common ground with USRowing leadership on these points.  I took it very hard, and I continue to worry now that we will have done our team a disservice by making so many drastic changes to established procedures so late in the quad.  I hope and hope and hope that everything is going to go perfectly and that I will have worried for nothing.  I hope.

With that in mind, I put together a graphic of our 2016 selection procedures, so the next time someone asks “how?” you can just say… “here, look at this”.  As for the “why” … well, I’m still working on that.   If you want the full official deal, you can read the 2016 USRowing Olympic Team Selection Procedures .

olympic team flow chart

(here’s a slightly bigger version)

–MK

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2 responses to “How to Make the Olympic Team

  1. Megan, thanks so much for the update ….Wow, the whole process has become even more complicated than in previous Olympic qualifying years. Hang in there….wishing you all the best ….Kara too. Think of you often!!

  2. Thanks, Megan. Extremely interesting and well presented.
    I hope you’ll be able to network and find common cause not only within rowing but across other Olympic sports.
    I’m sure there are many athletes having identical problems/concerns/frustrations with their federations about selection for 2016.
    Good luck.

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