Competing in the Olympic Games is the dream of many athletes, both amateur and professional. The process by which you compete for a spot in the Olympics varies somewhat depending on your sport, but certain general principles apply to most sports.
The journey toward becoming an Olympic athlete begins when you simply choose a sport and enroll under the instruction of a qualified coach. When your coach feels you are ready, you will begin competing in local events; if you are successful in these, you will work your way up to state, regional and national competitions. Achieving a high level of success in this process earns you the opportunity to try out for a spot in the Olympics.
National Governing Board
Each sport has its own national governing board, or NGB. The national governing board is responsible for selecting who gets a chance at being part of an Olympic team, and each NGB has different criteria that you must meet if you want to be considered for a spot on the team. Those who compete in individual sports, such as gymnastics, tennis or track and field, will likely be able to compete for a spot based on their national rankings. Athletes in team sports are generally chosen by a national coaching squad based on their reputation and rankings. There are also a few team sports that have Olympic tryouts. Your specific NGB’s website will have this information for you.
Olympic Training Camp
If your NGB believes that you would be a valuable asset to the Olympic team, you will be invited to attend the official Olympic team training camp. This is where athletes are evaluated and ranked. If you finish in one of the top five spots for your sport, you have a good chance at being selected to join the team -- but again, these standards can vary from sport to sport.
After completing the training camp, your fate is then in the hands of your sport's Olympic coach. The Olympic coach has the final say on which athletes will be representing the United States in the next Olympic games.
- U.S. Olympic Committee: U.S. Olympic Training Center
- Cool Running: Trying Out for the Olympics
- USA Track and Field: 2008 U.S. Olympic Team Trials Qualifying Standards
- InterMat: 2009 U.S. Freestyle World Team Breakdown
- U.S. Youth Soccer: US Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program
- U.S. Speedskating: U.S. Speedskating Athlete Selection Procedures