Omaha can thank a summer sport for its success in landing its biggest winter sporting event of all time.
There's a long list of reasons for the city's selection as host of the 2013 U.S. Figure Skating Championships: a top-of-the-line venue, a connecting hotel, a well-organized city sports authority.
But Bob Dunlop, U.S. Figure Skating's senior director of events, said it was Omaha's success in hosting its first of two U.S. Olympic Swim Trials that put the city on the short list — and eventually made it rise to the top. He said leaders of several sports had talked about how well Omaha had pulled off the swimming event.
“(Omahans) are sports fans and aware of their community events,” Dunlop said. “And all of that contributes to a very likely chance of success in hosting an event.”
The decision to bring national skating to Omaha for the first time since 1967, however, wasn't a quick one.
After Dunlop heard about the Swim Trials' success and met Harold Cliff, who now heads the Omaha Sports Commission, he and his team did plenty of research on the city. They visited the CenturyLink Center, the Hilton Omaha, the Old Market. They needed to be sure Omaha could handle 1,500 skaters, coaches and officials and more than 100,000 skating fans.
Dunlop's team liked what it saw. The CenturyLink could hold several sheets of ice, a major advantage over cities where practice, competition and fan events must be held in different locations. Plus, Hilton, a U.S. Skating sponsor, had a hotel connected to the arena, which meant skaters could make it to the ice without any hassle.
“What we noticed very quickly was, the logical setup fit very well with what our event looks like,” Dunlop said.
Unlike the Swim Trials, which required Omaha to submit a formal bid, the decision to bring the U.S. Skating event here grew out of several conversations between that organization and local officials. Omaha was interested in bringing in another big sports event, and skating officials were impressed with the city and its facilities.
In April 2011, U.S. Figure Skating named Omaha its 2013 host city. With less than two years to go, local organizers got to work.
Last January, about a dozen Omahans traveled to San Jose, Calif., to get an up-close look at running figure skating's biggest American event. In June, a U.S. Figure Skating delegation toured the CenturyLink Center during the Swim Trials.
On both ends, organizers have been making a big push to put triple axels and Ashley Wagner in the consciousness of a city that tends to think more about touchdowns and Taylor Martinez.
In 2012, U.S. Skating made four separate visits to Omaha with skaters Meryl Davis, Charlie White, Lynn Kriengkrairut, Logan Giulietti-Schmitt, Adam Rippon and Agnes Zawadzki for interviews and autograph signing.
“We really want to appeal to the sports fan, to young families, for people looking for a little bit of everything in their sport,” Dunlop said.
If the championships go well, Omaha might be able to land the event again soon.
Cliff said local officials are considering a bid for the 2016 World Figure Skating Championships.
Dunlop said U.S. Skating has learned that if a city is willing to support its sport, it is more than worth coming back.
“Any community, any (sport) that has events to bid wants the same thing, which is repeat business — and for good reason.”
Reporter Erin Golden, left, and photojournalist Rebecca S. Gratz will lead our coverage team this week. Erin and Rebecca have been tracking U.S. skating developments since attending the 2012 championships in San Jose, Calif.
Go to Omaha.com/skating for full coverage of the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, including athlete profiles and ticket information.