After Omaha hosted the U.S. Olympic Swim Trials for a second time, in 2012, there was some post-meet thought given to event fatigue being a potential problem if the city wanted to host again.
USA Swimming even went through a nine-month process that included five other cities vying to land the eight-day competition.
But any concerns about Omaha and its relationship with the U.S. Trials were washed away last summer when Omaha hosted its third Trials.
“We don’t want to come somewhere and be a burden, and there be like, a, ‘Huh, coming back again?’ ” said Mike Unger, interim CEO of USA Swimming. “That’s not the attitude we want to have a city have, and Omaha’s never shown that.”
It certainly didn’t show a year ago, when the 2016 U.S. Trials smashed overall attendance records and brought crowds of 14,000-plus to six of eight night sessions at the CenturyLink Center.
And now the Swim Trials will be coming back a fourth time, in 2020, with Omaha always the front-runner since the 2016 Trials finished on July 3.
USA Swimming, the Omaha Sports Commission and city and state leaders made the announcement during a press conference Monday at the CenturyLink Center. Securing dates that didn’t overlap too extensively with the College World Series was the final hurdle.
“The reason why we didn’t open it up to bid again,” Unger said, “was because all the other cities said to us ‘Don’t (open it to bids). It’s a lot of headache, it’s a lot of work. … If you know what you think you’re going to do, then go with that plan.’
“We decided that we had a great site in Omaha, and we decided to stick with it, to do our best to follow through and see if that could work.”
The 2020 dates are tentatively set for June 21 through 28, forced into an earlier start because the Summer Games in Tokyo will begin July 24. The 2016 U.S. Trials began June 26, with the Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro not opening until Aug. 5.
A June 21-28 Trials would result in at least three days of overlap with the CWS, scheduled to run June 13 to June 23 or 24 in 2020.
The bigger roadblock before 2016 was deciding whether already hosting the event twice would cause interest to ebb — something that former Omaha Sports Commission President Harold Cliff mentioned after the 2012 U.S. Trials — with headliner Michael Phelps and some other marquee names bound for retirement.
“He and I had many conversations about whether or not that would be the prudent thing to do for the city at that point,” Unger said.
For the 2016 Trials, USA Swimming eventually would narrow its field to Omaha, St. Louis and San Antonio after also considering bids from Indianapolis; Greensboro, North Carolina; and Jacksonville, Florida.
Omaha not only was picked, but attendance would climb to 197,892 in 2016 from 167,000 in 2012, with Phelps coming out of retirement and again being a major draw.
Among other major sports that hold U.S. Olympic Trials, Omaha hosting swimming in 2008, 2012 and 2016 has been paralleled only by track and field spending those same years in Eugene, Oregon.
“I think once you go three consecutive Trials and there’s still a tremendous amount of excitement — and not just from the community but from USA Swimming and swimmers from across the nation — you realize that this is starting to become the home of the Swim Trials,” said Wes Hall, who replaced Cliff as Omaha Sports Commission president last year.
Unger said it would be hard to predict beyond 2020 because “dates become a big issue.” USA Swimming and Omaha remained in communication with the NCAA about 2020, and USA Swimming also had its national team steering committee involved in a decision that would shorten the window between the U.S. Trials and Summer Games by a week.
The U.S. Trials and CWS shared some dates in both 2012 and 2016.
“I think we would all prefer not to have an overlap, but we have the overlap,” Unger said.
But Omaha also gets back an event that, according to the Omaha Convention and Visitors Bureau, has an economic impact of $74 million on the city, including $38 million in direct spending. Unger said more than 70 percent of tickets are sold to buyers outside Omaha.
Mayor Jean Stothert and Gov. Pete Ricketts both spoke Monday at the press conference, with Ricketts saying: “Omaha punches above its weight when it comes to these events.”
Since 2008, swimmers going from Omaha to the Summer Games have won a total of 95 Olympic medals, in Beijing, London and Rio de Janeiro. Unger said the atmosphere in Omaha readied those swimmers and coaches for success.
Along the way, USA Swimming built strong relationships with the Omaha Sports Commission, the CenturyLink Center and the city.
“That trust helped us come back here,” Unger said.