How athletes qualify for the Olympics


Qualifying for the Olympics does not guarantee a spot on a team. For the 11 BYU affiliates who have met qualifying standards, the process of possibly becoming an Olympian has just begun. In most cases, the athletes won’t know if they made the team until about two weeks before the Olympics begin.

Tokyo, Japan, is hosting the Olympics for the first time since 1964. The Olympics will run from July 24 to Aug. 9, 2020, but countries are not required to announce their official teams until early July, and dates vary based on the sport. For the 2020 Olympic games, five sports have been added, equaling a total of 33. These new sports include baseball/softball, karate, skateboarding, sport climbing and surfing.

The number of athletes countries are allowed to bring for each event is limited. Each Olympic sport has an international committee that sets worldwide qualifying requirements. Larger countries, like the United States, often have more qualifiers than open spots on their teams, so they must narrow down the list until they meet the required number.

The United States holds Olympic trials in June to find its top qualifiers. In smaller countries, most athletes who qualify make it onto the Olympic roster.

BYU affiliated athletes could possibly compete in track and field, swimming and volleyball in Tokyo. The process to qualify and make the Olympic roster for each of these sports varries.

Mary Lake, one of 11 Olympic qualifiers affiliated with BYU, is currently playing in her last collegiate season before possibly going pro. (Hannah Miner)

Track and field

The track and field qualifying process changed to a two-tiered system where athletes can qualify by first meeting a time requirement, then the remaining spots will be assigned by world-ranking. 

World-ranking is assigned based off strength of time and status of meet. Runners in the 10,000-meter race are rated on their two best results. For a 5,000-meter race, athletes are ranked on their top three scores, and athletes in events up to 1,500 meters are rated on their best five results in a 12-month time period. Marathoners have a longer window than any other race, an 18-month window, and their ratings are based on their two best results. They can also qualify by finishing in the top 10 of a World Marathon Major, like the Boston Marathon.

The time requirements were updated to be more difficult, and the quota for each race is smaller than in past years. 

International track and field qualifying times for the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics. (

BYU adjunct statistics professor Jared Ward qualified by finishing in eighth at the Boston Marathon and will compete in the U.S. Olympic trials on Feb 29, 2020.


Swimmers only qualify for the Olympics when they meet the time requirements at a FINA approved swim meet, like Winter Nationals. Single athletes have until June 29, 2020, to qualify. Relay athletes have until May 22, 2020. 

Athletes can qualify in multiple events but can only compete in the U.S. Olympic trials for races they have qualifying times for. At the trials, everyone swims at least once. After the first round, the top 16 swimmers of each event will move on to the semi-finals. Then the top eight move-on to the finals. The top two swimmers in each event will make the U.S. Olympic team.

International swimming qualifying times for the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics. (

Each country can only bring 26 men and 26 women to the Olympics for swimming. More than 1,000 swimmers have qualified for Team USA’s swimming team, six of whom are affiliated with BYU. The U.S. Olympic swimming team will be finalized on July 6, 2020.


Volleyball isn’t timed or measured, so the process to qualify is different from swimming or track and field. Volleyball players are added to a pool that coaches choose from to nominate the official team and replacements.

Priority is given to athletes with experience on the national team. Volleyball players are evaluated on their efficiency in six areas: attacking, blocking, digging, setting, serving and passing. The order of importance in those areas depends on the position the player holds on the team. Players are also evaluated on teamwork, attitude, versatility, maturity and how well they take direction from coaches.

Mary Lake and Taylor Sander were added to the pool when they competed on Team USA. Team USA volleyball will announce its nominated team and replacements on or before July 2, 2020.

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