USA Swimming turned down bigger cities and bigger venues in favor of bringing the U.S. Olympic Swim Trials back to Omaha and the CenturyLink Center.
So once again, in 2016, the U.S. swim team for the Summer Olympics will be decided in downtown Omaha.
“It's really nice to win a competition where the competition was extremely strong,” Omaha Sports Commission President Harold Cliff said after the decision was announced Saturday evening. “I think it says a lot for the city.”
USA Swimming Assistant Executive Director Mike Unger said several factors clinched it in Omaha's favor, primarily the setup in the city and at the CenturyLink Center and the relationships that have developed over the past eight years.
“We loved our experience in '08, loved our experience in '12 — and we're really looking forward to doing it again,” Unger said in an interview after the announcement.
Omaha bested finalists San Antonio and St. Louis. The initial field of six had also included Indianapolis, Greensboro, N.C., and Jacksonville, Fla.
Both San Antonio and St. Louis proposed putting the U.S. Trials in domes, with the potential to seat 20,000 for the eight-day, 15-session event. The CenturyLink Center has a 14,000-seat arena.
USA Swimming made its recommendation to Executive Director Chuck Wielgus on April 16 and then to its board of directors on Saturday. The site selection was announced Saturday evening in a live webcast from Colorado Springs, Colo.
|Take a look back at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Swim Trials in Omaha.|
“The City of Omaha did a great job of coming together and saying 'Yes, we want them again,' ” Unger said. “That's what came forward.”
Some of the Omaha pluses that Unger mentioned:
» The short walk from the warm-up pool to the arena pool, among many athlete conveniences and services that swimmers liked in Omaha.
» Location of the AquaZone fanfest area in the CenturyLink convention center. While separate from the competition pool, it was still under the same roof and offered easy access for fans. Omaha might expand the AquaZone to an indoor-outdoor setup in 2016.
» Easy access to hotels and restaurants downtown. Many of the top swimmers stayed at the Hilton Omaha, which is connected by skywalk to the CenturyLink Center.
» An airport location less than three miles from the CenturyLink Center.
“All of those things sort of added up and put check marks in the Omaha column,” Unger said.
During the announcement webcast, Unger said the three goals for the host site were to run a technically flawless event, put on a great show and have it be financially successful for all involved.
According to Cliff, both Omaha and USA Swimming netted better than $500,000 in profit operating as a joint venture in 2012, when total attendance was a record 167,048.
Omaha had sellout crowds for three nights last year. Unger said one of the goals for 2016 will be to sell out all sessions.
“We did a great job selling tickets in '08 and '12,” he said. “We need to do a better job in '16.”
Cliff said Omaha emphasized new technology in the CenturyLink Center during a site visit by USA Swimming in February. The building will be installing a $6 million center-hung high-definition scoreboard next month that Cliff said “may give us a whole different look.”
Omaha already had jazzed up the event in both 2008 and 2012, with a healthy budget spent on presentation. Features such as pyrotechnics, music and waterfalls made the event a great spectacle for both swimmers and fans.
“We're encouraged at the prospects of what we can do,” said Cliff, who has served as chief operating officer for the past two U.S. Trials. “We've got a few things we want to try out.”
The U.S. Trials dates have not been set for 2016, but Cliff said previously that the first proposal called for July 4-11. That would separate the Trials some from the College World Series. Last summer the Trials ran June 25-July 2, with a one-night overlap with the CWS.
Roger Dixon, president of the Metropolitan Entertainment and Convention Authority, said Omaha has a “blank canvas” with the CenturyLink Center and surrounding facilities and structures that were only a dream a dozen years ago.
“Let's take it forward to 2013, and we're going against Indianapolis and Jacksonville and St. Louis and San Antonio … and we won,” Dixon said. “That, in itself, justifies the commitment this community made. We're beating major cities in what we do here.”
The 2012 U.S. Trials included a $30 million estimated economic impact for Omaha. The event also included eight straight nights of live NBC television coverage.
Last summer there were hints Omaha might not make another run at the U.S. Trials. But Cliff said it all came together after all those involved sat down and reviewed the 2012 meet — and discovered the energy and commitment to put on a first-rate event were still there.
“You don't want to overstay your welcome, so we didn't want to rush into it,” he said. “But the support that we got, across the board, was extremely positive.”
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>> Video: See a time-lapse of the 2008 Swim Trials pool construction: