By Jim Rusnak//Director of Media Properties | Thursday, August 24, 2017
INDIANAPOLIS – The FINA World Junior Swimming Championships is not only the premier competition in the world for swimmers aged 18 and under, it’s also a crucial building block in the foundation of USA Swimming’s success on the international stage.
“It’s super important,” said Mitch Dalton, USA Swimming’s National Junior Team Director. “When we look back at Rio, I think we only had four or five athletes who never had international experience. A big part of that started for them with the Junior Team. For them to come here and know how these meets work is so important.”
Dalton said eight swimmers from the 2011 World Junior Championships and seven from 2013 World Junior Championships went on to compete for the U.S. in in Rio.
Some names fans might recognize from the 2011 team include Simone Manuel, Lia Neal and Jacob Pebley, all of whom won medals at that meet and went on to compete in Rio. Olympians Caeleb Dressel, Gunnar Bentz, Kathleen Baker and Cierra Runge were standouts at the 2013 meet.
“Statistically there’s big correlation between people that are in this meet and people that are at the next Games,” Dalton said. “For us, it’s about how they represent USA Swimming on the international scene, how they build relationships, and the excitement of being on the team with each other.”
The team competing in Indianapolis over the next six days was selected last June at the Phillips 66 National Championships in this very pool.
Very simply, the top two swimmers aged 18 and under in each Olympic event – along with the top four in the 100 and 200 free – earned a spot on the team.
“We really want this meet to mimic everything to do with the Olympics, so for our Trials, it’s the same thing,” Dalton said. “We go to our highest-level meet and select a team just like we would at Olympic Trials.
“We really want to put these athletes in a situation so that when they get to Omaha (for Olympic Trials) in 2020, they’ve gone through a series of meets just like they would have to do to get to the Olympics.”
According to Dalton, there’s an in-the-pool and out-of-the-pool aspect of this meet that’s important for the swimmers competing.
First, he wants them to learn how to manage a FINA-sanctioned meet and the different procedures that go on at these competitions – anything from managing the ready room, to wearing bibs, to sitting in the team area.
The second thing he wants them to learn is how to manage their emotions – knowing how to swim with that flag on their cap and that little boost of energy it brings, along with maintaining their process so they’re still able to perform at their best.
Finally – and maybe most importantly – he wants them to build relationships.
“Looking back at our team in Rio, about 80 percent of our team had been through the Junior Team program,” Dalton said. “Many of those relationships and our culture, which is our x-factor – we talk about that a lot with Team USA – started right here on this deck with the Junior Team. Maybe sometimes I think that’s the biggest (thing), because that’s going to have the most long-term benefit.”