By Mike Gustafson//Correspondent
Five years ago, on the eve of July 4th, 2008, thousands of swim fans congregated in Omaha, Neb., to celebrate the 2008 Olympic Trials. It was a national holiday, so most swim meet attendees were jovial and decked out in patriotic red-white-and-blue. The USA Swimming Foundation passed out T-shirts to everyone in attendance. "Go USA!" cheers erupted from all sides of the arena. It was less about individual swimmers that night, and more a sensation that we were all rooting for America. Inside the venue, swimmers earned spots on the Olympic team. People cheered. We rooted each swimmer and wished those lucky enough to qualify for Beijing. It was another magical night. Then, outside, as people congregated outside, had autographs signed and conversed about Phelps & Co., fireworks exploded in the starry nighttime Nebraskan sky.
Ever since that moment, whenever I celebrate the 4th of July, I think about competitive swimming. That moment five years ago seemed so iconic: Swimmers' dreams coming true, U.S. Olympic rosters selected for the most patriotic of competitive athletic teams, and the best sport in the world celebrated during the biggest meet on U.S. soil. Hosting the Olympic Trials on the 4th of July seemed to be not only perfectly coincidental, but also wonderfully fitting.
Consider this to be my official petition:
Let's link competitive swimming to the 4th of July. Forever.
Other sports have other holidays linked to them. College football has New Year’s Day. Pro football has Thanksgiving. Pro basketball always features headline match-ups on Christmas.
So why can't swimming take over the 4th?
Here are 5 reasons why this holiday relationship makes sense:
1. July 4th is the ultimate summer holiday; Swimming is the ultimate summer sport.
Pools open in the summer. Communities use pools as gathering spaces. On July 4th, people flock to lakes, pools, ponds, rivers and oceans to watch fireworks, BBQ and celebrate America. Linking swimming together with this holiday makes conceptual sense. Not during the dreary, rainy fall. Not during the cold, harsh winter. Not during the capriciously thunderstorm-fused spring. Summertime = swimming. It's the ultimate summertime activity on the ultimate summer holiday.
2. July 4th is a perfect time to discuss water safety.
When everyone visits pools all across America, why not use the opportunity to promote water safety? Sure, it's a bit late in the season, but most people don't swim in early June, anyway. Pools are busiest during those hot July dog days of summer. And they're especially busy right around the 4th of July. Water safety is a message that needs to be addressed, again and again. I think back to my July 4ths, and many of them involve water. Beaches. Lakes. Boats. Pools. Use this holiday to discuss water safety and promote swimming as a healthy, safe competitive sport.
3. Swimming is the most popular sport at the Olympics, and the Olympics are the most patriotic of sporting events.
The Olympics are the most patriotic of sporting events, but many times, the Summer Olympics don't fall on the 4th of July. Last summer, they were in August. So why not make sure that a huge, mega-televised swimming meet takes place annually on July 4th? Swimming is the most popular of Olympic sports. Why not celebrate America's Olympic heroes with, arguably, the most patriotic and popular of Olympic sports? After time, it'd turn into a consistent event. You turn on the TV, and every time, you know there's competitive swimming. Many people turn on TVs to watch firework displays. A swimming event could take place in the two hours beforehand.
4. There are no other major sporting events on the 4th of July.
At least, none that I can think of. Maybe the Tour de France -- but let's get real, even though France helped us in the Revolutionary War, we're not about to toast espressos and swallow down duck confit on July 4th. Swimming has an opportunity to market itself as the sporting event that takes place every 4th of July. This timeframe already falls in line with previous Olympic Trials. In 2008, the Olympic Trials took place exactly on the 4th. During 2012, it was just off by a few days. But if we could embrace and market that the Olympic Trials always happens over the 4th of July, then continue that notion every single year with a National Championships or big, made-for-TV event, people would begin to link swimming with the 4th, the same way people link NCAA football with January 1.
5. Fireworks + water.
Nothing goes together better like fire and water. (That's not a joke.) Dramatic pyrotechnics enhanced and thrilled audiences at previous Olympic Trials. Remember those amazing photographs from fire blasting on the pool decks in Omaha? Fireworks in the sky overlooking a calm, blue pool -- what could be more dramatic? Fire and water create such a direct contrast that there's almost a harmony between the two. Fireworks and water would prove to be marketable, dramatic, and distinctly American.
The 4th of July is a time when backyard pools and BBQs are celebrated and embraced. People flock to America's waters, its lakes, rivers, oceans, ponds, beaches, and shorelines. They don suits and swim. Many of them probably call out to each other, "Check it out, I'm Michael Phelps!"
Why not celebrate the most patriotic of holidays with the most popular Olympic sport?
We don't have to wait for TV to catch up to this sentiment, though. Celebrate the holiday. Be safe around the water. And hopefully, the president of NBC Sports somehow sees this and thinks, "Hey, maybe we should market our most popular Olympic sport every year on July 4th!"
Like that day back in Omaha in 2008, competitive swimming and July 4th just belong together.