Because U.S. Olympic swimmers all qualified at the Swim Trials in Omaha, folks here felt a special kinship to the sport — and Omaha wasn't forgotten across the way.
NBC, which covered the Trials, mentioned our town 43 times from London, said Todd Murphy of Universal Information Services in Omaha. Those references reached an audience of 66.6 million, he said Monday, the paid-ad equivalent of $1,144,000.
For Omaha, the pool has been cool — even when the hot flames shot up in celebration alongside the water's edge during the Trials. The economic impact of this year's Trials has been informally estimated at more than $30 million. But the frequent mentions in the Olympic coverage, on NBC and in news media around the country, are priceless.
Many of the swimmers we cheered at the U.S. Swim Trials that ended last month went from Omaha to London to win gold and other precious metals, silver and bronze.
But it's not all about metal, or medals. Among other things, it's also about timing.
World-record holder Ariana Kukors, 23, who swam in the finals of the 200-meter individual medley in London, experienced heartbreak and joy in Omaha — each by slivers of a second.
In 2008 she missed making the Beijing Olympics by eight-hundredths of a second. This year in Omaha she made the London Olympics by .25 of a second.
While still in the water at the CenturyLink Center Omaha, Ari teared up as she looked at the scoreboard and saw that she had made it. After thousands of hours of training, she was an Olympian — by one-fourth of a second.
Close-up cameras showed her embracing her mother and two sisters, Emily and Mattie. All three Kukors sisters swam in Omaha in 2008, and Mattie and Ariana did so in 2012.
Ari, whom I interviewed in 2008 and whose Seattle-area family I got to meet this year, finished fifth last week in the Olympic finals of her event. She didn't receive a medal, but she still holds the world record — set not in an Olympic year but in 2009 at the World Aquatic Championships in Rome.
Swimming World magazine named her the American swimmer of the year. Her timing, you could say, was a little off — her peak year was not an Olympic year.
But her social-media postings from London show that she is not moping. At the opening ceremonies, she wrote that she hoped everyone was watching.
“Everyone in the (Olympic) Village is so nice,” she wrote. “I just want to hug everybody.”
As her race days approached, she was “looking forward to racing my heart out for Team USA.” The next night she said she was serenading teammates with her Taylor Swift mix.
She showed Caitlin Leverenz, who would win a bronze medal in the 200 IM, how to make French braids. Ari thanked people for all their support, and cheered for male and female teammates all last week.
On her Facebook page she and her sisters, all smiling, are pictured in front of Buckingham Palace, which they toured. “So proud to be an American,” she wrote.
The most nerve-racking swim meet in the world, Ari has said, is not the Olympics. It's the Olympic Trials.
Nerves, of course, can affect superb athletes at the Olympics, too. A gymnast loses points because of an extra step on landing. A sprinter knocks over a hurdle. A basketball player misses a big free throw.
We admire people who risk failing for the mere chance of winning. Most days they are up, another day they might be down. It's like the ups and downs we all live, but theirs are in the glare of lights and the focus of close-up lenses.
Next year Omaha hosts the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, which may receive mentions at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Skaters will fight nerves — and receive deductions for the slightest imperfections.
No one is perfect. And as the saying goes, timing is everything.
It turns out that as our city has made significant strides the past 15 years or so, our connection to swimmers, skaters and others who excel at the highest levels is perfectly good timing for Omaha.
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