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Thread: Seeding at nationals: a commentary

  1. #1
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    Seeding at nationals: a commentary

    Last November I wrote a short editorial about my feelings toward the seeding rules for masters nationals. Between now and then I have been trying to get the editorial published in one of our two swimming publications, but to no avail.

    So I am "publishing" it here, for all masters swimmers to read as we approach the spring nationals in Fort Lauderdale.

    -------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Please excuse all the question marks in this column, but I have a lot to ask.

    Why are the 400 IM and distance freestyle events seeded by time at nationals, while the other events are seeded by age first, then time?

    Here’s the rule, from the United States Masters Swimming Rule Book, about seeding events at nationals: “Pre-seeded events shall be seeded, with oldest age groups first, slowest heats swum first in each age group.” Not “... may be seeded...” No room for leeway there.

    Why is this a steadfast rule that applies to every national championship, but only an optional policy for regional, state and local meets? An option that, I might add, is never used.

    How much longer can we stand to watch another man or woman win a race by three body lengths, then watch another man or woman win a race by the same amount three heats later? To make matters worse, we don’t notice -- or don’t care -- that often the swimmers (in different age groups, obviously) finish the race with times less than a second apart?

    Case in point: At the 2004 masters long course nationals in Georgia, Razvan Petcu and Michael Ross set world records in the 100 fly in the 30-34 and 35-39 age groups, respectively. Ross was faster than Petcu by less than two tenths. Imagine the sub-56 second times both would have posted if they had raced in the same heat -- the fastest heat consisting of the top eight 100 flyers at the meet. Imagine the crowd’s enthusiasm at witnessing a great race between two extraordinary swimmers -- and the other six who would have definitely fed off their energy.

    I’ll give you another example. I was one of hundreds to watch in amazement as the 25-29 100 yard freestyle at last year’s short course nationals featured a race that had three swimmers break 45 seconds. And yet, by that time, many had forgotten that two swimmers in the 40-44 age group, John Smith and Paul Smith, weren't too far off the pace, swimmig under 47 seconds.

    How great it would have been to have the Smiths swim in the same heat as Sabir Muhammed and Gary Hall Jr. Would the Smiths have moaned about swimming against people 15 years younger? Doubtful. Would the younger swimmers have laughed at two men in their 40s racing them? Highly unlikely.

    Unfortunately, that is a race we will most likely never see. And if the rule makers at FINA and USMS can’t see the inherent advantages of erasing this current rule, then we’ll never see races of that caliber.

    We’ll continue to see Bobby Patten race all alone in the 200 fly, instead of getting pure competition from swimmers in other age groups who would jump at the chance to race one of master swimming’s best.

    I’ve only been a part of masters swimming for five years, so I wasn’t around when this rule was passed. So can someone please tell me the logic behind it?

    Are the older swimmers scared of getting their butts whipped by a 28-year-old? Did someone complain that they miss the days of age group swimming and wanted to return to that?

    Please tell me the logic behind that rule -- if there is any logic.
    And while you’re thinking of an explanation, think about what would happen if this rule were in effect in USA Swimming and Olympic/World Championship meets. It would mean that Michael Phelps and Ian Thorpe would never get to race because Phelps belonged in the 19-24 age group. Would Katie Hoff be relegated to the 15-18 age group, while Amanda Beard swims all alone in the 19-24 bracket?

    Yep, that’s a bunch of baloney, but that what I’m seeing in masters swimming. And as some of us begin to map out our training and competition plans leading up to next year’s master’s world championships, I fear we’ll never get the kind of exciting matchups we take for granted in the Olympics.

    Wouldn’t you rather see four swimmers duke it out for the overall title in the 200 free at nationals than to watch them one by one in their respective age groups? (Don’t worry. They’d still get their first place medals for winning their age groups.) And wouldn’t it be better for all swimmers to race people of their own ability?

    What would it take to make this policy change? Would it just take one person to finally vocalize what so many have whispered about on decks around the world? OK, I’ve done that. What’s next?

    I’ve asked a lot of questions here, and the answers (read: the future of US Masters Swimming) lie within you.

  2. #2
    Moderator Rob Copeland's Avatar
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    An interesting dissertation.

    First as a distance swimmer I get the opportunity to compete in both time seeded events and age-group seeded events. And I’ll tell you that I’m very happy with the current arrangements. I like the fact that I can swim with similarly paced swimmers in my mile. And that I can compete within my age group in the 200 free.

    Second, USA-Swimming DOES swim by age groups. And you will be hard pressed to find any USA-S meet where they combine the 11-12’s and 13-14’s based on time. Events such as USA-S Senior Nationals are conducted as one age group events, with, for example, 1 Men’s 100 free and one set of awards. Are you suggesting we swim our nationals following this USA-S model?

    And finally, your observations appear to be from the perspective of a spectator of the event and not a participant. I assume you competed as well as observed these events. So the question that comes to mind is; as a competitor in these events how would you prefer to be seeded?

  3. #3
    Very Active Member LindsayNB's Avatar
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    I personally prefer age-blind seeding, but I'm not in contention for winning my age group at a national meet.

    The arguments that have been given in the past run along the lines of: if you are a contender for winning your age group do you want to be racing your rivals or a bunch of people who are in other age groups? How will you feel if your main rival and you end up as the fastest swimmer in one heat and the slowest in the next? Especially how will the person in the outside lane of the faster heat feel about being edged out on time by a rival who got to swim in the center lane of the slower heat? (Presuming a perceived disadvantage to the outside lane)

    Is masters swimming about providing a show for the spectators or catering to the swimmers? Are the people who are in contention for in any age group the exception or the rule? Is what's good for the fastest person in the 40-44 age group good for the fastest person in the 70-74 age group? Is there a contradiction between the existance of age groups and open seeding? Certainly one reason for not seeding by age group at smaller meets is that there are not enough competitors to fill age-group-separated heats. I think it comes down to whether you are racing for the best time or for your placing in your age group.

    Given that the added complexity can easily be handled in software I think it would be ideal to allow people to enter age group or open catagories. It would be interesting to see how many people went each way and the meet timeline would be reduced.

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    To answer Rob's question, I have competed in the 2003 and 2004 spring nationals, so I have been a spectator and a competitor.

    To add more perspective, I wanted to swim against three other swimmers in the 25-29 age group in three events last spring (100-200 IM, 100 back), because our times were within a second of each other. I watched their heats after swimming mine, and wished I had been able to race them. It would have helped me focus on something other than pain in the last 20 yards!

    This leads to Lindsay's comment. I swam in USA Swimming from age five to age 22, so I know the way meets are done. I am only mentioning the nationals for the purposes of my argument, not local meets. I think seeding by time only will benefit the swimmers AND spectators. The swimmers get to race people of their talent, and ther spectators get to see more close races -- in all heats.

    If there are two people at the top of one age group who don't get to swim together as a result of this seeding, I'm certain the guy in the "slower" heat will get some competition anyway. I don't see how anyone could not benefit from it.

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    I much prefer to compete against my own age group at nationals. When I am swimming my race, I like to know exactly where my competitors are. When I finish my race, whether I'm 1st or 8th, it is so much more meaningful to look at the scoreboard and KNOW how I've placed, not wait an hour or two and look on a sheet. I've only seen my name with a "1" next to it twice, but it's something I won't forget - ever. It is tremendously motivating during training to visualize the entire race including looking at the scoreboard and seeing a time and place.

    I would prefer to swim the 400 IM and distance freestyle events with my own age group. I am fortunate that I will be able to do so next week at Y Nationals. I realize that this practice is time consuming and don't suggest that it be implemented in USMS championships.

    I suspect that your proposal will appeal only to a small handful of elite male athletes.

  6. #6
    Very Active Member Beards247's Avatar
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    Jeff -

    I think the concept for you article is nice, though I understand why editors were not interested in the article (this assumes what you posted here is what you submitted to publication). The writing itself lacks refinement and as evidenced by the responses, not very well researched. I do however, think it's excellent fodder for the forums, and the feedback you recieve could lead to a better composed article.

    As for the issue, tough call for me - I see both sides of the issue. Being the best in your age group but being buried in lane 8 by youngins' may be a bit demoralizing - the greatness of your achievement hidden by the speed of youth. But as a top notch swimmer (ahem) I would want to race against the best I could. I should disclose I am [just] a male athlete, but I know numerous top females who want to compete against the best of the best - and one who takes particular pride in beating someone younger - and a male (not applicable at all competitions of course).

    There is no real resolution to an issue like this, the preference is rooted in personal preference with no research, logic or logisitcal reason to choose one approach over the other. This could be an excellent opportunity to use the Forum polling
    and publish the poll and results in the new magazine.

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    Very Active Member Paul Smith's Avatar
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    Hey Jeff how you been?! Are you swimming with us this year in FL?

    Regarding your post, I brought the same thing up in this forum a few years back and got pretty beat up over.....lot's of the "E" word thrown around (Elitist).

    Problem is, the vast majority of the membership for USMS does not come from the type of competitive background guys like us do and many of their goals are very different (jquills post being a great example and bravo to her).

    The good news is that the many regional meets around the US are seeded "open" and allow for some great competiton, in particular the Long Beach short course meters meets. There is even a pending proposal by Mark Gill to try and organize a championship around these meets....very cool idea which hope comes through.

    One of the things USMS could do a far better job of is working with the LMSC's in trying to coordinate a calender that would allow more people to make more than just one of these if they wanted and to help market them as well.

    Alas that brings up another point of contention between the two "camps" at USMS because one group is very much against "growth". And you through th Democrats & Republicans brawled!
    I crack myself up. It is jealousy. It is Boredom. I Did not accomplish enough when I was young, and I hate anybody faster/younger than me.

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    Paul, I won't be going to nationals (big wheels turning here in New Mexico that keep me busy), but I'm very much looking forward to world championships next summer.

    Anyway, I had a feeling this would have a backlash, and that's fine. I wanted to see what the word is on the street. I think I've got my answer, though I hope more people will chime in.

    I've heard about that Long Beach meet and others like it. They sound like fun meets to attend. I might just make a visit there this winter!

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    I'm in the seed it by time camp. I can wait a few minutes to see what the overall results are in my agegroup. I also think it would be fun to be in a heat with people my own speed and of all different ages. Motivation to beat the younger ones and also to not get beat by the older. I've never understood the downside.

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    Administrator matysekj's Avatar
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    I'm in the undecided camp. I would enjoy watching the fastest 8 duke it out in the pool, regardless of age. However, I have to admit that I like being able to see my results in my age group immediately and knowing that if I let that guy next to me beat me it has an adverse effect on my placement. I would support trying out seeding by time only at nationals to see how it is received.

    Paul, the proposal that I remember getting a lot of discussion at convention was a little different. It was a hybrid - seeding events by age group, but separating out only the top 8 overall to swim in one final heat regardless of age. I do not support this idea because it does not have a uniform seeding method for all swimmers in a given event and I consider that unfair. Imagine being seeded second in your age group, but not getting a chance to swim head to head against the first place seed because he made the elite heat and you didn't. I know, this can happen with 8th and 9th place seeds today, but at least the rule is uniformly applied within an event today.

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    Pretty Lethargic Swimmer mbmg3282's Avatar
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    Jeff,

    You have brought up some interesting points and started a good discussion. My first thought when I read your proposal was that it discriminates against our older swimmers. Sure, it would be fun to watch the extremely fast swimmers from the 40 - 44 age group swim with younger age groups of similar speed and perhpas win. But what about some of the fastest in the older age groups. Consider someone in the 60 -64 age group who crushes the world record and goes time within a 3 tenths of what they swam when they were college age and the American Record holder. The swim is going to be lost among the 30th place swimmers in the 30 - 34 age group, some 15th place finishers in the 40 - 44 age group and the 4th place finisher in the 45-49.

    You mentioned making the meet more exciting for spectators. I wonder if it really would. Undoubtably, the final heat out of 66 in the 100 free would be great. But what of the first 65 heats? There would be so many age groups mixed together that the announcer would have a difficult time knowing when the fastest swim in an age group occurred or when records were broken. Those two aspects also add some excitement to the meet and do occur every couple of heats with the current seeding practices.

    However, I agree with Jim Matysek. We won't know unless we try. I would support doing this at nationals one year on a test basis. One change is that I would make a few age breaks. Maybe have the 40 and younger, the 50 - 64 and 65 and older. Something so that the older swimmers don't get lost in the meet.

    You asked "what would it take to make the policy change?" You live in New Mexico and I assume that you belong to that LMSC. It has not been represented at the annual convention in the last several years. Convention is when something like this change would be presented and brought before committees and possibly the house of delegates for a vote. One way to start this moving would be to contact your LMSC and let them know of your interest. Perhaps you could be designated as the delegate from New Mexico.

    Jim, I think the proposal that Paul was referring to was the creation of a distributed short course meter nationals. The original idea consisted of several SCM meets located around the country during the November to December timeframe. The results from the 4 meets would be compiled to determine the winner of each event. These meets could be seeded however the meet host wanted. The idea was to take our already great regional meets and make them a little better and help grow the attendance. I am still working on this proposal. I should probably work a little harder.
    Mark Gill

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    Very Active Member TRYM_Swimmer's Avatar
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    Seeding Conundrum

    I would generally favor keeping the seeding as is for the Nationals, because of some of the above mentioned reasons. I like to watch the superstars shine in their age groups. It emphasizes how much better they are and I think gives them the recognition from the spectators. It would surely make spectating a lot more work to have them mixed, and try to catch your favorites, while warming up/down yourself.

    I enjoy swimming in the regional meets by time, because you do get some competition of your own caliber. Even that is not perfect, however, and I would like to propose some tweaking with that, even at the local level. I have seen meets where there will be three swimmers from the same age group, separated by not much time, in the same heat, but let's say in lanes 2, 5, and 7. (NOTE TO MEET MANAGERS - If you read much further you will want to kill me!!!) I don't know if Meet Manager has a simple way to override seedings to make minor changes (as a computer programmer, I know that it could), but it would be nice to have those swimmers in 5, 6, 7 so that they would have a better look at each other and the lane 6 swimmer could be moved to 2. I have been in an outside lane with my competition in the other outside lane. I don't like that much in a local meet and would hate it at Nationals. OK, you can start throwing your darts!!! I would like to see if it could be done without much work and would be willing for someone to email me their meet layout for a practice tweak. It might be surprising how few changes would have to be made to fix this.

    Just my 2 cents worth. Love the forum, glad to be reading postings from a lot of thoughtful, talented people. Hope to be meeting more of you in person as I get back into the groove. Miss the nationals!

  13. #13
    Very Active Member michaelmoore's Avatar
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    Jeff:

    I dont think you should hold your breath about seeing a change in the seeding method at nationals.

    The basic philosphy is that this is a national championships for the age groups and the swimmers in the age group should be competing against each other. The distance events are seeded by time so that the meet will not run to midnight - imagine having the 1650 seeded by age group by time - it would take forever!!

    Mark was right you could go to convention to try to make your case. The LMSC could also sponsor a rule to make the change. (While that is possible, I believe the best way would be to go to convention as a delegate then get on the championship committee). A major change like this would have to get the support of the Championships Committee and I do not see that happening.

    I think the rule change that Jim was thinking of was that the eight fastest women would be seeded in their own heat of the 1500 and 1650.

    michael
    michael moore

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    Very Active Member knelson's Avatar
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    I'm a little on the fence on this one, but I do think Jeff's perspective is different since he's an elite swimmer. As more of an "average" swimmer myself I like to swim against my competition (i.e., those in my age group). But, honestly, if Nationals were seeded strictly by time I can't say I would really mind that much.

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    Very Active Member Peter Cruise's Avatar
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    I also, am of two minds on this- but, a small gesture (and kind of neat, I think) would be this: in additions to the regular age group listings posted with results, also 'break out' regardless of age the top ten or whatever for that event. I know for a lot of Nats Jim McConica would 'place' very high indeed in such a listing. It might even result in some media interest(heaven forbid). What-the-heck with some zone or local meets, you could open that top 10 to regardless of sex criteria & get some good talking points...

  16. #16
    Swimmer Bill
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    Personally, I like swimming in heats with people of my age group. All year long, at local and regional meets we can swim with people in other age groups based on seed time.

    Swimming by age group is something a little different, and I think there must be some good reasons why that situation is reserved for Nationals. For example, when your club is in the running in the club scoring, seeding by age groups can give you an opportunity to go head-to-head with seven other people in your age group. Sometimes that can help you score an extra point or two for the club.

    I agree on the point about becoming a delegate, going to the convention, getting on the Championship Committee, etc. Sometimes USMS does change when people speak up and discuss new ideas. It's a lot like the government: there are delegates (local representatives), they bring new ideas, the ideas are discussed, and there is a vote (majority rules). Case-in-point: one year ago, how many people thought USMS would have a new magazine?

    Side note: Personally, I like watching the swimmers who are way ahead of their age groups. It shows how outstanding they are in the context of their own divisions. However, if I was one of those swimmers, perhaps I'd have a different opinion. I respect Jeff's opinion and understand why he feels this way. He's a "top shelf" swimmer. If you could go 55.99 in the 100 yard breast, there wouldn't be too many people in any Masters age group who could give you a good race. On the same token, if I could go 55.99 in the 100 breast, I'd be doing a lot of USA Swimming meets and beating the youngsters.

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    Very Active Member Karen Duggan's Avatar
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    Growing up an age group swimmer I found the transition to Masters an easy one except for the 50s and 100 IM of course!

    An argument I can see: if you're going to swim everybody together regardless of age for national championship titles why bother having world records and LMSC records for the age groups? Who would care?

    For me personally, I like knowing my competition as I race them regularly (or see their times on-line) and I know their strengths and weaknesses. And even when the results are in I check the other age groups to see what place I got OVERALL, just because I'm curious

    One frustrating thing about swimming by time: at one nationals my husband thought he had won the 400 IM and he didn't (by a few tenths). The guy who won was in the heat several heats slower than his. Pat, my husband, was really... upset (so I don't get in trouble!) He knew that if that guy were in his heat he would have beat him or at least pushed it more (my husband won his heat by at least 10 seconds). So that also raises that age old question about sandbagging... I know a world record holder in our LMSC (not Suzanne!) who sandbags all the time because she's afraid to compete with the fastest. At our LMSC championships she looks really stupid. Everybody knows she's the fastest but she swims in a slower heat and decimates everybody...

    For now, I'm for swimming by age-groups. For example, I know Suzanne Heim-Bowen is faster than me in freestyle, it doesn't matter how old we are. In fact I think her accomplishments are accented even more when she finishes her heat well ahead of everyone else in her age group. Until swimming is an "interesting" sport to America, no one really misses it or sees it as a spectator sport. I myself, think meets are boring unless I'm swimming.

    Also, on another note, it's important to remember that the fastest do not show up at every nationals. The Top Ten is the only true way to measure the best of the best for now and that's by age group. Maybe add an "overall" Top Ten category?
    K.Duggan

  18. #18
    Very Active Member justforfun's Avatar
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    How about this idea:

    Conduct the meet exactly as we do now, seeding according to age groups. Then, take the top eight overall finishers from each event and swim one additional heat (Finals, if you will). This way, there would still be individual age group winners from head-to-head competition AND the opportunity for the fastest in each age group to go up against each other for the overall title.

    The "finals" heats could be swum at the end of the day's competition or the beginning of the next day. Or, if there's a feeling that the meet would be too long, as is always a concern, an additional 1/2 day could be added to the meet with all "finals" held in that session. I would probably prefer the same-day format.

    This proposal would not affect most Nationals participants, but would give the elite swimmers a chance to test themselves against the fastest from each event.

    What do you think?

  19. #19
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    Re: Seeding at nationals: a commentary

    Originally posted by Jeff Commings
    Here’s the rule, from the United States Masters Swimming Rule Book, about seeding events at nationals: “Pre-seeded events shall be seeded, with oldest age groups first, slowest heats swum first in each age group.” Not “... may be seeded...” No room for leeway there.
    If you're going to quote the rulebook, you should read all of the rules. You're quoting rule 104.5.5(A)(2). You should also read rule 104.5.5(a)(4) which says:

    Events 400 yards/meters and longer shall be deck seeded by one of the following
    methods: (a) by entry time only, (b) by age group, the oldest age group
    fi rst, slowest heats seeded fi rst within each age group, then by time, or (c) by a
    combination of (a) and (b). The USMS Championship Committee shall make
    all seeding decisions.
    That says that the 400+ events must be 'deck seeded'. If you look at the Nationals meet information:

    All events, with the exception of the 1650, 1000, 500 and 400 IM, will be pre-seeded unless meet management determines that the meet cannot be completed in a timely manner. Three courses (a total of 26 lanes) will be used for the 1650, 1000, and 500 free and possibly the 400 IM. Men's heats will precede women's heats for each event. The 1650, 1000 Free and 400 IM will be seeded slowest to fastest by entry time regardless of age. All other events will be seeded by age group with the oldest age groups first, slowest to fastest within each age group.
    ... you'll see that it says exactly that.

    As for changing a rule in the rulebook, the best course is to get support for your idea, and get it onto the docket at the Convention.

    -Rick

  20. #20
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    Also, to address another question:

    Why is this a steadfast rule that applies to every national championship, but only an optional policy for regional, state and local meets? An option that, I might add, is never used.
    One reason why this rule works at nationals is because there are _so_ many people at nationals. Most local meets have only a couple of heats per event. Seeding-by-age breaks down real quickly with a very small number of heats.

    At the regional level, sometimes we have to weigh the options a little differently. At the NE Masters Champs last week-end, we had 768 swimmers in the meet. The best facility we have available for a meet this size has just an 8-lane competition course. We don't have a SCY facility in the region that would give us two courses _and_ have the appropriate facility space and warmup space.

    We are a meet that is large enough so that seeding-by-age would work reasonably well. We had 30 heats of men's 100 free. However, seeding by age would probably have added a couple of hours to our timeline for the week-end. As it was, one of our days started at 9:00am and didn't finish until almost 8:00pm. So every minute counts.

    At nationals, where you always have large facilities with plenty of space (certainly in relative terms), there is less pressure on the timeline.

    -Rick

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