Covid crowd fear prompts US swimming trials shake-up

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The US Olympic swimming trials in Omaha, Nebraska, will be split into two events this year to ease over-crowding fears related to Covid-19

The United States Olympic swimming trials will be split into two smaller events in June as part of a shake-up aimed at protecting athletes from Covid-19, USA swimming said Tuesday.

A statement said that the battle for places on the US swimming team at the Tokyo Olympics would now take place across separate competitions in order to address concerns around athlete over-crowding.

USA swimming said the first trials event would take place on June 4-7 before a second competition held between June 13-20. The second event would be the sole qualifier for places to Tokyo.

The body said 1,305 athletes had qualified for the trials since the qualifying window opened in November 2018.

"Given the current environment, and the need to address concerns related to over-crowding in the athlete areas, warm-up pool and athlete seating areas, the decision was made to divide the event into two," a statement said.

"We undertook a thorough and methodical evaluation of the trials over the last several months and factored in several critical considerations in our decision," USA Swimming Chief Operating Officer Mike Unger said.

"Our number one priority was to find a way to host trials in the safest possible environment while also giving the athletes the best opportunity to succeed."

Under the new format, qualifying standards have been revised based on analysis of times at the past five editions of the Olympic trials between 2000-2016.

Athletes who have met or bettered the 41st seeded time based on past results will automatically advance to the final, second qualifying event.

Lower-ranked swimmers who have not reached the standard will take part in the first wave of qualifiers, with the top two in each event advancing to the final qualifiers, which will have a final field of around 750 athletes.

The US Olympic trials have been held at Omaha, Nebraska since 2008 and are a popular part of the US sporting calendar during an Olympic year, attracting sell-out crowds throughout the week-long competition.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday that state and local officials would permit 75% capacity at the competition venue, the CHI Health Center Arena.

The Journal added that USA Swimming expected it would be "extremely likely" that all athletes and attendees at the trials would be required to show a negative Covid-19 test before entering the venue.

The decision to overhaul the trials comes with the viability of the Tokyo Olympics -- postponed from its original slot last year as the pandemic unfolded -- continuing to be debated.

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