Commentary by Nathan Jendrick
Having played host to the last two U.S. Olympic Team Trials for swimming–and having done a magnificent job with both, I should add–Omaha, NE has earned the right to call itself the host city for America's biggest swim meet. Not just in 2016 for its third go-round, but for good. As long as Omaha wants to play host to our fanatical swimming community, we should let it.
In 2004, when the Trials left the hallowed walls of the IU Natatorium at IUPUI and set up shop in a parking lot down in Long Beach, Calif., we were treated to a quality event under the beautiful summer sun. It was fun, it selected what would be an extremely successful U.S. Olympic team, but it just didn't feel right.
There was no history, there was no real excitement about the venue, and you just couldn't shake the feeling that you were in a parking lot. In fact, the only shaking was that worrisome tremble beneath you as the scaffolding bleachers shook relentlessly.
Come 2008 though, something was completely different. Although a temporary setup, Omaha transformed the Qwest Center into something that felt like a real pool but with an aura of a rock concert. Four years later they got the chance to do it again at the CenturyLink Center–same place, new name–and they somehow managed to improve on their first attempt.
Everyone left with the same opinion: Wow. And the history was there; this was ground in which our Olympic team was chosen before, and it was doing it again. There's even a plaque in the hall dedicated to those who were chosen, by competing in that arena, to represent Team USA. And now athletes from all over the country dream of having their name placed there, too.
You just can't do that in a parking lot, nor can you do it in a place that uses the event as a simple economic attraction, like a Taylor Swift or Justin Bieber concert.
Swimming doesn't just bring money to a city, it brings passion. And in return, we need a city that sends the same back to us. Omaha fits the bill.
Wimbledon. The French Open. The 24 Hours of Le Mans. The Masters. The Grand National. Even the World Series of Poker. All of these major events are kept in one place. Their locations are synonymous with their events, and their events synonymous with their locations.
In short order, Omaha has taken the patina that Indianapolis held for swimming and made it its own. The city is passionate about the sport, the airport gets decorated for our arrival, the shopkeepers and waitresses know that swimming is in town and they care enough to stop and ask about it. You don't get this everywhere.
I've been to meets all over the world for the biggest swimming events, and rarely does anyone care why you're there. With the exception of Indianapolis and the World Championships in Australia, I can't remember a time I walked into a restaurant and someone asked if I was in town for “the swim meet.” Not in California, not in New York, not in Japan.
In a city too big, the event–no matter what it is–gets lost in the daily grind. In a city too small, you don't have the resources to make something so important run smoothly. In Omaha, you've got the space, the motivation, that special Heartland flare, and now, the experience of running The Big Show.
We can't take that away from them; it would be doing that city, and our sport, a huge injustice.
I'm not saying San Antonio couldn't put on a great Trials. I'm not saying St. Louis, Long Beach, Long Island or even Seattle wouldn't do a fantastic job. They're just not Omaha. We've given Omaha eight years–two Olympic Trials–to build that luster of history and energy around America's biggest swimming competition, and we should let them run with it.
As far as I'm concerned, the Olympic Trials are Omaha's show, and my goodness, they do it with style. So in the run-up to 2020, let's skip the LeBron-like “Decision” webcast, save the time and effort of various committees, and just give Omaha what they deserve: Our best. Because they've proven twice now that they most certainly give us theirs.