• Photo Showcase: U.S. Swim Trials, July 1
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If hosting the U.S. Swim Trials were a competition, Omaha would have just broken its own world record.
The crowds. The atmosphere. The volunteers. The warm-up pool. The Aqua Zone. Easy access for athletes and fans. The trapdoor awards stand. The pyrotechnics of it all.
Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte, Missy Franklin and all of the other fastest fish in the sea.
It's been a terrific week, better than 2008, the best Swim Trials in memory.
It will leave a high expectation to meet, or beat, in 2016, for anybody who wants to give it a go.
“It's like a high jump competition,” said Chuck Wielgus, executive director of USA Swimming. “The bar has been set high.”
But will Omaha enter the competition?
Good question. It's too early to say whether Omaha would host this extremely cool event a third straight time, in the summer of 2016. Wielgus says USA Swim wants to open the bid process. And Harold Cliff, president of the Omaha Sports Commission, is noncommittal, also.
The hunch here is, both sides will want to take a break and look around in 2016 — with the understanding that it's so good here that it has to come back, possibly in eight years.
That's a good idea. Omaha should expand its horizons as a big-event town. Let's see what else is out there, though it would be tempting to go after a third Swim Trials. There's an obvious comfort level with this event and the Big O, on both sides.
“It could not be going any better,” Wielgus said before Sunday night's races. “The expectations were so high after 2008. The pressure and challenges were to not only match that but try and go a bit higher. That happened here, especially with the crowds and the awards ceremony.
“Coaches and officials are notorious for complaining about something. Nobody has complained all week.”
Wielgus said USA Swimming won't just give the Trials back to Omaha without a bidding process, as it did after 2008. Several cities interested in the 2016 Swim Trials, including Jacksonville, Fla., and Greensboro, N.C., had representatives here this week.
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USA Swimming will bid it out, as it should. Omaha might enter the fray. Wielgus said Omaha could get it again.
But it sure sounded like Cliff is ready for a new challenge.
“I'm not going to rule it out, but I'm not going to say yes right away,” Cliff said of 2016. “We need a time for reflection. We're not tired (of the Swim Trials) by any means. But we do not want to be perceived as only a swimming (city).”
It's not like this relationship is broken. Cliff said the economic impact from the Trials is more than $30 million for Omaha. USA Swim, meanwhile, would be gambling that another market could match the crowds and buzz that happen here in big-event town. Monday night, Omaha is expected to surpass the attendance mark of 160,063 it set four years ago.
But USA Swim can find out if it can grow the sport somewhere else. And Omaha can find out if it can show up at the same rate for another sport.
Gymnastics. Figure skating. Volleyball. Hockey. A baseball series between the Cuba national team and USA. Cliff mentioned those as possibilities for the next four years, either for Olympic Trials or a World Championship. Because hosting one of these things takes a chunk of donor change, Cliff said one major event is likely all the city can do in a four-year span.
So Monday night might be goodbye. But it's been a ton of fun, not to mention a valuable experience for Omaha. It put the O on the radar with the other Olympic sports. Omaha made a, um, splash.
In part, we have Michael Phelps to thank for that.
Timing is everything. Omaha had the good fortune of hosting the Trials when Phelps was king of the pool. In 2008, he used Omaha as a springboard to making Olympic history. He's back this year to put the finishing touch on his legacy. Twice, we saw the most decorated swimmer in history swim at his peak.
Of course, there have been other big names, from Dara Torres to Natalie Coughlin to Ryan Lochte, etc. But without Phelps, chances are NBC is not going live every night from Omaha. Bob Costas is not here to talk Cardinals with Bob Gibson.
And that raises this point: Without Phelps in 2016, will NBC be back every night? Yes, rock star Lochte and the infectious Franklin will be around, but will the Trials be as compelling without King Crab from Baltimore?
Maybe, maybe not. But I have a feeling Omaha would get into the ice queens (figure skating), hockey, volleyball or gymnastics — especially with Nebraska's tradition in the latter two.
The past two Swim Trials — and all of Omaha's non-stop volunteers and hospitality — have put the O in position to stand for something else: Olympics.
“It's got a nice ring to it,” Cliff said.
All five of them.
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