Three Options, All of Them Good
By Mike Gustafson//Correspondent
The Olympic Trials are all about environment. From the pool deck, to the audiences, to the 360-degree arena-style seating, to the pyrotechnics, to the PA announcer: It’s a spectacle to behold. There is no other U.S. swim meet like the Olympic Trials, with good reason. It’s the biggest meet in our nation, and it only happens every four years.
This weekend, the next location of the Olympic Trials will be selected live on usaswimming.org/trials. The decision is huge in terms of logistics: Is there enough hotel access close to the pool? Is the airport dependable? What is the public transportation like? How many people can fit into the arena? Is the arena capable of hosting such an event? Can the city host thousands of swim fans? Will there be other events simultaneously happening in the city?
But everyone who goes to the Olympic Trials knows that there are also intangibles: What will the weather be like? Are the locals friendly? Are there things to do outside of prelims and finals? What is the restaurant life like? Are there places to go within walking distance of the pool?
Three cities are in contention for the fastest meet our nation has to offer: St. Louis, San Antonio, and Omaha.
The past two Olympic Trials have been in Omaha, and I’ve been to both. The biggest thing that stands out, at least to me, are the friendly nature of Nebraskans. Everyone is friendly. Nebraskans pride themselves on good hospitality no matter what the occasion, whether it be hosting the Olympic Trials or the College World Series or college football fans on a warm Saturday afternoon. The CenturyLink Center is a beautiful arena that provided rich memories and fast swimming.
There is a tradition at Omaha, built over the previous two Trials, similar to the tradition built in Indianapolis for years. Veterans are familiar with Old Town and the local restaurants in Omaha. There is a routine built in. The locals know swimming now. Local cab drivers know and remember the swimming Trials. Just last summer, I spoke with a local cab driver about Michael Phelps vs. Ryan Lochte, and he could talk eloquently about the meet.
“Are you a fan of swimming?” I asked him.
“Oh sure,” he said. “This is a big deal to Omaha.”
But tradition and friendliness doesn’t necessarily mean that Omaha will get the bid for 2016.
Two other cities – St. Louis and San Antonio – both offer interesting options as well. San Antonio, another city that prides itself on southern hospitality, is rooted in a state with arguably more swimming tradition than Nebraska. And St. Louis has close proximity to an abundance of Midwestern states where age group and high school swimming thrive. I can’t comment on the inside information about each city. But what I do know is this:
The city that is selected for the Olympic Trials is more about hotels and logistics. It’s about atmosphere. It’s about memories. When the Olympic Trials were in Indianapolis for years and years, the IUPUI Natatorium embraced the tradition of the meet. There were names painted on the wall after an Olympian qualified for the roster – names that still stand today. There were displays in hallways and huge banners, hung from the rafters, of previous Olympians. Walking into the ‘Nat was like walking into a Cathedral of swimming, so rich with history and tradition, you felt more alive and connected to the sport than ever before.
The IUPUI Natatorium is no longer an ideal spot for the Olympic Trials due to seating capacity. More fans can pack into an arena with a temporary pool, which means more access and more attention and more publicity.
These are good things to have in our sport.
But whatever city is selected – Omaha, St. Louis, or San Antonio – I only ask this: Swimming deserves a city that will be excited for our sport. They deserve a city where the cab drivers can talk swimming, where the locals are excited about the Trials, where there are banners hanging in airports and there’s an electricity in the air. Any of these cities, I’m sure, are capable of such an atmosphere. They wouldn’t have gotten this far in the selection process otherwise.
Though there could be a tradition that is broken with the lack of continuity, this time around, it seems as if all three cities offer distinct positives. Omaha offers tradition that is key to the Trials process. St. Louis offers a central location to rich swimming states in the Midwest. San Antonio offers warm hospitality and is a vibrant city in a state known for swimming success.
The ‘Nat is gone. Omaha provided two wonderful Trials. And this weekend, a new chapter will be written for 2016, one that will affect our sport the next three years and counting….
Will it be St. Louis? San Antonio? Or will we be back in Omaha?
Watch the announcement live right here on usaswimming.org/trials, Saturday @ 6pm ET.