Harold Cliff has never measured or walked it off, but his best guess is that it's about 120 feet.
That's the rough distance between the competition and the warm-up pools when Omaha's CenturyLink Center is set up for the U.S. Olympic Trials, with absolutely no obstruction between the two.
That short walk might also have been one of the biggest factors in the distance between Omaha and the bids proposed by St. Louis and San Antonio for the 2016 U.S. Trials. That and the overall “same footprint” that Omaha could again offer — that was known and trusted and comfortable for the 1,500-plus swimmers involved.
Asked what probably won the bid again for Omaha after hosting in 2008 and '12, Cliff, president of the Omaha Sports Commission, said last week: “Without question, the convenience of the venue.”
The 50-meter warm-up pool starts at the southern edge of Exhibit Hall A in the CenturyLink convention center, where it connects with the arena. That pool also sits in a mostly enclosed space that minimizes the noise from the arena, allowing swimmers to prepare or cool down, Cliff said, without distraction.
In proposals by San Antonio and St. Louis, the warm-up pools and other participant services — a swimmers lounge, massage area, coaches hospitality — would have been under the same roof of expansive domes, separated by curtains.
“That sound can't help but bleed over, which can be a less-than-ideal state for swimmers,” Cliff said.
The immediate proximity of the warm-up pool to the competition pool was a definite plus for Omaha, and along the way helped eliminate some bidders that couldn't provide it. Cliff also said it was one of a number of things that probably influenced the USA Swimming decision, which came April 27.
One of the other most significant was the availability of the Hilton Omaha, which sits directly across 10th Street from the CenturyLink Center and is attached by a skywalk. According to USA Swimming, 350 to 400 rooms in that hotel were occupied by swimmers, coaches or officials during the 2012 U.S. Trials.
“That could not be better, when you're going back and forth from the pool all day,” said Rowdy Gaines, part of the NBC broadcast crew for the 2008 and '12 U.S. Trials in Omaha.
Gaines said the logistics at the CenturyLink Center just worked, from the floor plan to the facility to all the things located within a few blocks of each other. Omaha also offers a meal program in the convention center, another convenience that allows its top stars to avoid having to wander out very far if they choose not to.
“Maybe they would have been able to figure all that out in San Antonio or St. Louis — maybe they could have — but for my money, Omaha made a lot of sense,” Gaines said.
“When I left last summer, there was not one negative comment that I heard, and I talked to hundreds and hundreds of people. I think they had to look at that and say, 'Hey, listen, we got a successful model here.' ”
San Antonio Sports CEO Russ Bookbinder told the San Antonio Business Journal that the city “put together an extremely competitive bid” for the U.S. Trials. Cliff said he was aware of some of San Antonio's financials and said Omaha was in the same ballpark with those figures, but he did not know financial details of St. Louis' bid.
Frank Viverito, head of the St. Louis Sports Commission, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that it was hard not to be picked, but said the process was fair. He also told The World-Herald last week that he knew the bar had been set high by Omaha from attending the past two U.S. Trials.
If USA Swimming was “not ready to move to a significantly larger facility, we respect that decision,” Viverito told the Post-Dispatch. He also said St. Louis most likely would try again to bring the U.S. Trials to the Edward Jones Dome in the future.
“We couldn't shrink the dome, but we presented it as intimate as we possibly could,” he said.
Cliff said Omaha won't sit on its success, even though the things that worked were a major reason USA Swimming wants to return for the event that will decide the American team for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
Cliff foresees a budget in the $9 million to $10 million range. It was $7 million last year and just over $5 million in 2008.
The bid also included that Omaha had to guarantee the purchase or resale of one of the two temporary pools that again will be manufactured and constructed by Myrtha Pools USA.
The undisclosed rights fee that Omaha agreed to will include payments that start being made in 2015 and are staggered over a two-year period. Cliff said a minimum rights fee was not part of the request for proposals, but if you didn't have one in your bid you weren't going to be competitive.
“At the end of the day, give credit to USA Swimming because they didn't go for the biggest fee but what was best for the swimmers” in selecting a host, Cliff said.
USA Swimming officials are expected to be in Omaha this month for a ceremonial signing of the contract. Cliff said both sides also will start reviewing objectives and discussing possible tweaks for 2016.
One thing that won't change much is the layout that led to the U.S. Trials coming to Omaha for a third time.
“It came down to that the setup in Omaha for the athletes and coaches was just the best of all those final candidate cities,” said USA Swimming Assistant Executive Director Mike Unger.
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