To participate in the Summer Olympics, you have to qualify by doing well in an Olympic Trial or competition, or be invited by the International Olympic Committee. While events can vary, traditionally in the Summer Olympics you can compete in rowing, badminton, basketball, boxing, canoeing, cycling, equestrian events, fencing, soccer, golf, gymnastics, weightlifting, handball, hockey, judo, wrestling, swimming, rugby, taekwondo, tennis, table tennis, shooting, archery, sailing, volleyball and track and field. There’s no single path to participating in the Summer Olympics and how you can get an Olympic bid depends on the international federation that governs your sport.
Become an Elite Athlete
The best athletes in the world compete at the Olympics, and whether or not you’ll reach the competitive level of an Olympian depends on a variety of factors, including genetics. Begin by seriously training for and competing in your sport. Hire a coach experienced with training Olympic-caliber athletes in your sport to assist you with your training. It typically takes Olympic athletes four to eight years of consistent training in a sport before they are good enough to make an Olympic team. Contact Team USA to see if you can train at one of the four United States Olympic Training Center's facilities. If allowed, you'll be given a nutritionist, a sports medicine specialist, an exercise physiologist and a coach.
Qualify for Trials
While qualification standards vary for each sport, a common way to qualify for Olympic Trials is to meet a qualifying time or score at an Olympic-recognized event. For example, track and field athletes can compete in the Visa Championship Series or the USA Running Circuit and achieve times or scores that qualify them to participate in an Olympic Trial. A male marathon athlete must finish a certified marathon in 2:18:00 or less and a woman must finish in 2:43:00 or less to compete in the marathon at the Olympic Team Trials. In some sports, like men's wrestling, you can earn the right to participate in Trials by being ranked nationally. At an Olympic Trial, you’ll compete against other athletes in the same sport for one of a limited number of Olympic bids. How many athletes earn a bid depends on the sport.
Selected for Team
In some sports, such as soccer, athletes are selected for the Olympic team by a selection committee organized by the sport’s governing board, Team USA. In the United States, there is a U.S. Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program, which identifies talented players and works to further develop them so that they're prepared to compete at the Olympics when they get older. A Team USA selection committee is also used to select the players to make the United States Olympic Hockey Team.
Eligibility to Compete
In addition to earning a spot on an Olympic team through athletic merits, you have to comply with the Olympic Charter, which sets out the eligibility rules that have been established by the International Olympic Committee. You must be a national of the country you plan to compete for. You must also be a member of your country's governing board for your sport. For example, track and field athletes need to be a member of USA Track and Field, while swimmers must be members of USA Swimming. The International Olympic Committee doesn’t have any age requirements. In addition, the eligibility code from the International Olympic Committee notes that Olympic athletes must respect the spirit of fair play and nonviolence and respect and comply with the World Anti-Doping Code.
- Olympic.org: FAQ: What Does an Athlete Have to Do to Participate in the Olympic Games?
- Olympic.org: Athlete's Handbook
- Olympic.org: Olympic Charter
- Forbes: How to Train Like an Olympian
- USA Track and Field: 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials - Marathon Qualifying Standards
- Team USA: 2015 Pan American Games and 2016 Olympic Games Selection Procedures
- US Youth Soccer: Olympic Development Program
- USA Today: Behind the Scenes in Choosing U.S. Hockey Team
- Photo Credit Hoby Finn/Digital Vision/Getty Images
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