003.005 Junior Olympics are Unfair

In a previous post we analyzed the qualifying times for an unnamed USA-S age group championship meet and found they were remarkably unfair to women (link).  In this post, we’ll analyze the gender-fairness of recent age group championships in various LSCs. We’ll find that nearly all of these LSC age group championships are also unfair to women.


Our analysis consists of four sections.  The first section describes the qualifying time data used in our investigation.  The second section shows that women are slightly more likely than men to have recently swum championship events.   The third section shows that men’s qualifying times are significantly easier than women’s in 24 of the 28 championships under consideration.  The fourth and final section shows that it is significantly easier for men to enter LSC age group championship meets in 12 of the 14 LSCs under consideration.

The Qualifying Time Data.

The data for this investigation consists of the qualifying times for 28 recent age group championships sanctioned by 14 LSCs in all 4 Zones.  We included LSCs with the most data from each Zone. For each LSC, we included both short- and long-course championships.


Zone

LSC

LSC Name

Meet ID

Date

Course

C

LE

Lake Erie

LE2018Y

20180309

SCY

C

LE

Lake Erie

LE2018L

20180727

LCM

C

MI

Michigan

MI2018Y

20180316

SCY

C

MI

Michigan

MI2018L

20180720

LCM

E

MA

Middle Atlantic

MA2018Y

20180301

SCY

E

MA

Middle Atlantic

MA2018L

20180719

LCM

E

MD

Maryland

MD2018Y

20180301

SCY

E

MD

Maryland

MD2018L

20180802

LCM

E

MR

Metropolitan

MR2018Y

20180309

SCY

E

MR

Metropolitan

MR2018L

20180727

LCM

E

NI

Niagra

NI2018Y

20180308

SCY

E

NI

Niagra

NI2018L

20180719

LCM

E

NJ

New Jersey

NJ2017Y*

20170317

SCY

E

NJ

New Jersey

NJ2017L*

20170727

LCM

E

PV

Potomac Valley

PV2018Y

20180315

SCY

E

PV

Potomac Valley

PV2018L

20180719

LCM

E

VA

Virginia

VA2018Y

20180308

SCY

E

VA

Virginia

VA2018L

20180726

LCM

S

FG

Florida Gold Coast

FG2018Y

20180316

SCY

S

FG

Florida Gold Coast

FG2018L

20180719

LCM

S

FL

Florida

FL2018Y

20180215

SCY

S

FL

Florida

FL2018L

20180712

LCM

S

NT

North Texas

NT2018Y

20180216

SCY

S

NT

North Texas

NT2018L

20180705

LCM

W

CA

Southern California

CA2018Y

20180315

SCY

W

CA

Southern California

CA2018L

20180725

LCM

W

OR

Oregon

OR2018Y

20180217

SCY

W

OR

Oregon

OR2018L

20180714

LCM


Recall that our data is limited to recognized USA-S events, and therefore our analysis will be similarly limited.  The principle effect of this limitation is to exclude shorter events for older athletes, longer events for younger athletes, and 25 yard events for the youngest athletes.


As indicated with an asterisk in the “Meet ID” column above, the NJ championships are from 2017 rather than 2018.  We excluded NJ2018Y because it adopted an unusual format relative to past and future NJ SC championships. The 10/Unders were in one location with two age groups (8/Under, 9-10) in one pool over two days, while the the 11-14 year olds were in a second location with two age groups (11-12, 13-14) in two pools over three days.  It was the only NJ JOs in recent memory to include an 8/Under age group, or to adopt such easy qualifying times for 10/Unders. For these reasons, we replaced the NJ2018Y meet with the more typical NJ2017Y in our analysis, and included the NJ2017L meet instead of the NJ2018L meet for comparison purposes.


Let’s now turn to our analysis.

Requiring Conforming LCM Times is Overly Selective

The following chart plots the expected number of Recent Swims for men and women for each of these 28 Junior Olympics.  Each Junior Olympics is identified by its LSC, year of occurrence, and course (long course meters “L” or short course yards “Y”).  LE2018Y, MA2018Y, and MI2018Y allow the most recent swims per athlete (7.16/athlete) while MD2018L allows the fewest (3.03/athlete).



MD2018L was the only LC JOs in our set that did not accept converted or non-conforming times.  All qualifying times for that meet had to be achieved in a LCM pool. Opportunities to compete in a LCM pool are rarer than in SCY pools: the long course season is three months shorter than the short course season, and there are fewer LCM pools than SCY pools.  As a result, age group athletes have less than half as many recent LCM swims as SCY swims. Refusing converted and non-conforming times for a long course championship makes it twice as difficult for athletes to qualify.


SCY meets tend to have more recent swims than LCM meets because they include one additional recognized event (100 IM) in two age groups (10/Under, 11-12).


The small differences among the other JOs are due to variations in the events included.  JOs with the greatest number of expected recent swims, such as NJ2017Y, include all recognized USA-S age group events.  JOs with fewer expected recent swims exclude some recognized events. For example, the CA JOs exclude six recognized events: the 10/Under 400/500 Free, the 11-12 800/1000 Free, the 11-12 1500/1650 Free, and the 11-12 200 Back/Breast/Fly.

Women are Slightly More Prepared.

The next graph plots the Recent Swim gender log-ratio.  Recall that positive values indicate that men are more likely than women to have swum the event recently, while negative values indicate the opposite.  The negative values in this graph show that women are slightly more likely than men to have recently swum championship events in every JO under consideration.

Qualifying Times Vary Enormously.

The following graph plots the average Qualifying Time likelihoods for all JOs in our set.  Athletes aged 9 to 14 have roughly a 20% chance of making a JO cut. We can see that qualifying times are easiest in LE2018L and hardest in VA2018Y and VA2018L. An athlete has a 54% of making a cut in LE2018L but only 14% in VA2018L!



Let’s take a closer look at LE2018L and VA2018L.  Both meets accept non-conforming times. The following two tables report the qualifying times for the five slowest 10/Under events in these two meets, along with the likelihood of a 10/Under athlete making that cut.  According to our data, a 10/Under female athlete who swam the 100 Backstroke recently would have a 71% chance of making the LE2018L qualifying time of 1:59.19 but only a 13% chance of making the VA2018L qualifying time of 1:29.29.  The “LE/VA Ratio” column shows that 10/Under Women are 2.5 to 5.3 times more likely to make the qualifying times for these events in LE2018L versus VA2018L.


Event

Age Group

Women

LE2018L

VA2018L

LE/VA

Time

Likely

Time

Likely

Ratio

Fr400

10/Under

7:36.79

0.91

6:04.09

0.36

2.5

Bk100

10/Under

1:59.19

0.71

1:29.29

0.13

5.3

Br100

10/Under

2:16.69

0.79

1:43.69

0.15

5.2

Fl100

10/Under

2:09.99

0.88

1:33.69

0.27

3.3

IM200

10/Under

4:09.39

0.88

3:13.59

0.23

3.8


Turning now to the 10/Under Men, a 10/Under male athlete who swam the 100 Backstroke recently would have a 68% chance of making the LE2018L qualifying time of 1:55.69 but only a 12% chance of making the VA2018L qualifying time of 1:27.19.  The “LE/VA Ratio” column shows that 10/Under men are 2.2 to 5.7 times more likely to make the qualifying times for these events in LE2018L versus VA2018L.


Event

Age Group

Men

LE2018L

VA2018L

LE/VA

Time

Likely

Time

Likely

Ratio

Fr400

10/Under

7:29.49

0.91

5:59.59

0.41

2.2

Bk100

10/Under

1:55.69

0.68

1:27.19

0.12

5.7

Br100

10/Under

2:11.29

0.70

1:42.99

0.15

4.8

Fl100

10/Under

2:07.79

0.88

1:30.09

0.25

3.5

IM200

10/Under

4:06.19

0.88

3:12.29

0.29

3.1


VA2018L was a relatively lean three and half day championship meet, with no additional age groups beyond 14/Under and no additional events beyond the USA-S recognized events.  However, it uses the time-consuming preliminaries and finals format for all age groups. VA could increase athlete participation by using timed finals for younger athletes.

Men’s Qualifying Times are Much Easier.

Plotting the log ratio of the qualifying time likelihoods shows that the men’s qualifying times are significantly easier to attain than the women’s for 24 of the 28 JOs under consideration. The LE and NT JOs are by far the most gender-fair meets in our data set, while the MI, FL, and NI2018Y cuts are by far the least fair. For those five meets, men have 1.5 times the likelihood of achieving a qualifying time than women.

Remarkably, both LE and NT use the USA-S Motivational Time Standards to set their conforming and non-conforming qualifying times.

The Least Fair LSC Age Group Championships.

The Michigan Swimming age group championship meets appear so unusually unfair to women that we need to take a closer look. The qualifying times for MI2018Y were chosen so that every 10/Under and 11-12 qualifying time is faster for women than men.  These are the only championship meets I’ve seen where women’s qualifying times are faster than men’s.  As a result, it’s significantly easier for men to qualify in every age group.


The following chart plots the ratio of the men’s qualifying time likelihood to the women’s.  (Note that this graph plots the ratio of men’s qualifying time likelihoods to women’s rather than the log-ratio.)  It shows that the men have 1.7 times the likelihood of making a cut in the 10/Under age group, 1.8 times in the 11-12 age group, and 1.3 times in the 13-14 age group. Overall, it’s 1.6 times easier for men aged 9 to 14 to qualify for MI JOs than women.

Looking at the individual events, we can see that MI2018Y favors men in every event in every age group, often by an enormous amount.  In 27 of the 44 events, men’s qualifying times are at least 1.5 times easier than the women’s. The least unfair event is the 13-14 200 Breaststroke, whose qualifying times are 1.1 times easier for men than women.  The most unfair event is the 11-12 100 Individual Medley, whose qualifying times are 2.5 times easier for men than women.

For the men’s enormous qualifying time advantage to be fair, MI must have substantially more male than female athletes aged 9 to 14, the MI female athletes must be substantially faster than the norm, or the MI male athletes must be substantially slower than the norm.  Unfortunately none of these conditions holds. Let’s investigate.


According to our data, MI has 1.06 times more female athletes aged 9 to 14 than other LSCs, which deepens the inequity of the men’s qualifying time advantage.  Using the MI gender distribution in our analysis would increase the men’s qualifying time advantage in the MI JOs by 1.15 times, from 1.6 times to 1.84 times.


The MI swims are slightly slower on average than those from other LSCs.  The mean rank of swims by MI women is 0.6% slower than those from other LSCs, while the mean rank of swims by MI men is 0.2% slower than those from other LSCs.  This small difference further deepens the inequity.

We’ve seen that Michigan Swimming sanctions the only age group championships where women’s 12/Under qualifying times are faster than men’s, which gives their 12/Under men an enormous unfair advantage.  In the 13-14 age group, MI men also have a significant qualifying time advantage over women. These qualifying time inequities are further exaggerated by the high fraction of women who participate in MI swimming.

The Fairest LSC Age Group Championships.

The North Texas age group championships (NT2018Y and NT2018L) are the most consistently gender-fair JOs in our set.  In both their short- and long-course championships, the overall likelihood of women qualifying for an event was only 1.02 times greater than the men’s likelihood.  The following log-ratio plot shows that men had a slight advantage in the 10/Under age group, while women held a slight advantage in the 11-12 and 13-14 age groups.


Looking at the log-ratio plot for NT2018Y qualifying time likelihoods, we see that the events in this meet are not uniformly fair.  Some events favor men, while others favor women. Nonetheless, on average, the meet as a whole is remarkably gender-fair. Well done, North Texas Swimming!

Looking next at the log-ratio plot for NT2018L qualifying time likelihoods, it is striking how the events that favor men in the NT SCY championships also favor them in the NT LCM championships, and often by a similar amount.  This suggests that the process of choosing qualifying times for these two age group championships is similar and highly correlated.


Further investigation reveals that North Texas uses the “A” USA-S Motivational Time Standards for their age group championships.  Both SC and LC championships accept non-conforming times, so athletes who make a “A” cut in an event qualify for both championships.  This is notably transparent and athlete-friendly process, that results in gender-fair championships.

It’s Much Easier for Men to Enter Events.

Finally, we’ll plot the overall expected number of events per athlete in these JOs.  This plot shows that MD2018L is the most difficult to gain entry to, despite having relatively easy qualifying times.  Excluding converted and non-conforming times greatly increases the difficulty of entering events in a long course championship.  LE2018L, NI2018L, OR2018Y, and OR2018L are the easiest overall to attend. The difficulty of attending JOs varies widely across LSCs.

Our final two graphs plot the log-ratios and ratios for the expected number of acceptances, showing that it is substantially easier on average for men to enter Junior Olympics events than women.  In the most fair JOs (LE2018Y, NT2018Y, NT2018L), men’s and women’s expected acceptances are within 5% of each other. In the least fair JOs (MI2018Y, MI2018L, NI2017Y, FL2018Y, and FL2018L), men qualify for 50% more events than women.

Conclusion.

In this post, we’ve analyzed the gender-fairness of twenty eight short- and long-course Junior Olympics hosted by fourteen large LSCs across all four USA-S Zones.  We’ve seen that the qualifying times for 24 of the 28 championships deny women an equal opportunity to complete relative to men, and that qualifying times based on the USA-S Motivational Time Standards are by far the most gender-fair.  In our next post, we’ll analyze the gender-fairness of the highest level of age group championship meets - the Zone Age Group Championships (link).