Click here to watch a photo showcase of Saturday's Swim Trials sessions.
If it wasn't clear already that Omaha was at the center of the swimming universe this past week, this weekend should have done the trick.
For the first time in either of the city's runs as host of the U.S. Olympic Swim Trials, competitors took to the water for Friday evening's finals in front of a sold-out crowd of more than 14,000 people. Saturday morning's preliminaries sold out, too — a particularly notable crowd, given that attendance for the morning sessions had topped 10,000 only one time, on the first day of the 2008 event.
Even during a long series of preliminaries Saturday morning, without big-name swimmers or pyrotechnics, the arena was full and the crowd was loud.
Tickets for Saturday night's finals had been sold out since Tuesday morning.
In the first six days of the eight-day Trials, 136,297 fans have packed the CenturyLink Center, putting the event on pace to surpass the overall attendance of the record-breaking 2008 Trials. That event drew 160,063 and smashed by more than 50,000 the Trials' attendance record set in Long Beach, Calif., in 2004.
Organizers said it looks like the same people who were impressed with the scale and spectacle of the meet in Omaha four years ago made sure to come back. Last time, attendees came from 36 states and seven foreign countries, with most of them — about 60 percent — coming from outside of Nebraska.
This time, they said, it seems that more people could be getting interested as the Trials roll on, particularly because of some of the big names making headlines across the country. Ryan Lochte's early victory against the man who has become the face of swimming, Michael Phelps, got even people who aren't swimming fans talking.
“The fact that it's live on NBC every night is getting people to realize maybe they better come down and see a night of this,” said Doug Parrott of Bailey Lauerman, who is handling public relations for the Omaha Sports Commission. Lochte and Phelps have “captured the imagination of everybody,” Parrott said.
Harold Cliff, president of the Omaha Sports Commission, said the weekend looked to be the time that walk-up ticket sales could help push the numbers even higher.
“Midweek has been very solid, and we expect the weekend to be more of a focal point for people,” he said.
Cliff said he's been surprised, in both 2008 and this year, that more Omahans didn't check out the event.
But some of the locals who did snag seats said they were thrilled to be there and proud to have such a big show in their own backyard.
Jack and Fran Sisson of Omaha said they've spent plenty of time by the pool watching their 17-year-old granddaughter, Shelbi Sisson, who swims with Greater Omaha Aquatics. But this was different.
“We've been to a lot of swim meets, and this is definitely the best of the best,” Fran Sisson said.
Across the arena, former Millard West swimmer Tyler Meuret, 20, and his mom, Linda Meuret, said it was “huge” to have so many athletes and sports fans gushing about their city.
“I love how we do it so well,” she said. “Coming right off of the College World Series, we're on TV every night. Can it get any better?”
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