Omaha, NE became the center of the swimming universe last week as it hosted the selection meet for the United States Swimming Olympic Team. I had an opportunity to take my oldest daughter to an event that we both hope and look forward to her attending in four years, as an athlete and not a spectator. I am not sure how that will look for me seeing that I was a nervous wreck while watching swimmers that I have zero connection to. I guess we will see.
For many of the athletes participating at the Trials, it is like nothing they’ve ever experienced before. For most, it will be the first and final time that they will get to swim in front of NBA sized crowds. 14,000 people packed into the CenturyLink Arena, watching 8-days of action packed swimming. That’s 14,000 people per session, not total. The athletes participating in this meet make up .0045 of USA Swimming’s membership base and the athletes that actually make the Team, make up .00012. WOW! Talk about odds. The Swimming Trials is considered the second fastest meet in the world, only behind the Olympics themselves and some of the athletes that get third and do not make the team (only top 2 qualify in most events), could win, at the very least, a bronze medal at the Olympics had they qualified. If you ask those that participated and made the team, they will tell you that Trials is WAY more nerve wrecking than the Games themselves.
The Trials offers spectators so much more than just swimming. It’s an experience that even non-swimmers would take an interest in. USA Swimming does an amazing job and it was not too long ago that the Trials were held at the Indiana University of Perdue University Indiana (IUPUI Swim Center) where it was just a “swim meet,” with a capacity crowd hovering at about 3000 and probably the most exciting part of the event, besides the swimming itself, was when the athletes who made the Team were recognized by having their names etched on the “Olympian wall.” Oh how the times have changed. Now you have interaction with the athletes through pre-programmed autograph sessions. You also get to enjoy an Aqua Zone where all of the major swim manufacturers get to exhibit their latest and greatest and where kids and adults alike will find many activities to entertain them for hours. Four years ago, there were pyrotechnics that would go off at the end of a finals event to celebrate the newly minted Olympians. Like everything else, swimming too has found its inner “WWF” (or “WWE” depending on your generation) and has added the “experience” touch to an event that was only lacking its “made for TV” cred. Well, its got it now!
Four years from now, I predict that the Olympic Trials of swimming will outgrow the CenturyLink. USA Swimming will need to move the event to a larger stage, possibly an actual NBA arena. The “Phelps Phactor” is alive and well and although this will be his final Olympics, he has for sure left his mark on the sport, both as an athlete and as the greatest marketing ambassador that our sport has ever known. One day, I will get my opportunity to thank him for what he has done for our sport. He is our Tiger Woods and our Michael Jordan. He has offered future generations an opportunity to swim into their 20’s and 30’s. This sport is no longer just a high school or college sport. It is now a sport that some athletes can proudly claim “professional” status. One last note, at this year’s Olympic Trials, no high school athlete made the team and more post grads made the team than current college athletes. It is a sign of just how far we have come. On to Rio!