Column by Nathan Jendrick
SEATTLE, Washington, July 10. WITH the 2012 Olympic Trials still fresh in our memories, it's worth taking a look at a topic that will–at some point in the future–become a heated one amongst certain circles of USA Swimming hierarchy and cities around the country: Who will host the Trials in 2016? And with that question comes another: Should our Trials find a home base to set up shop and remain?
There are no doubt a myriad of reasons to give the Trials a new location every quadrennial period, but there are certainly numerous benefits in keeping them in one expectant place as well. Not the least of which, of course, is quality. I think most will agree that the rickety scaffolding bleachers of Long Beach make the permanent–and relatively comfortable–seats of Omaha's CenturyLink look practically Sardanapalian. But let's look at the big picture and discuss whether or not the best thing for the sport is to find a permanent home for the biggest meet this country can put together, and we'll take this topic forward by playing devil's advocate and suggesting Omaha be that place.
Now, a quick preface: I love Omaha. For the most part, my trips in 2008 and 2012 were stellar, but because I planned to write this column while there on deck, I started quite a few discussions with swimmers and coaches to get a good bit of feedback to put the following together. Not every nuance is my personal input, but rather a consensus of a small sample. So, without further adieu…
The upsides to Omaha:
Omaha itself – This city knows how to party. They are gracious hosts and everywhere from the airport to the downtown bars have signs that say “Welcome Swimmers!” In all seriousness, how many other cities would have a giant swimmer's head on the corner of a main street?
Traffic – For anyone from Seattle to Los Angeles, New York to Miami, you can't help but love the (lack of) traffic in Omaha.
Venue – We can safely assume that if Omaha became the Trials host city, that the competition is going to stay at CenturyLink. And that would be a thing of beauty. Whether you were there or just watched on television, the pool was gorgeous and the stands were more than satisfactory in size and comfort.
The downsides to Omaha:
Travel – I talked to a number of coaches on deck and I did not hear one positive story about travel to Eppley Airfield. For the majority of swimmers, their home cities don't offer direct flights to Omaha and, of course, that means a layover. Layovers naturally can cause issues, and it seems there was no limit to them this time around. Obviously, it's the airline industry to blame for the most part, and not Omaha, but because it's a route those heading to Trials have to take, this definitely fits on the negative list.
Cost – This is an off-shoot of the previously mentioned travel, but it's worthy of its own point. Because of the relatively low number of travelers to Omaha on average, the huge influx of people flying in for Trials–especially when they overlap with the end of the College World Series–a premium is placed on seats. Thus, higher prices. I heard a couple of coastal-area swimmers talk about how their training trip to Hawaii was cheaper than their trip to middle America.
Accommodations – There are some very high quality chain hotels right near the venue that offer walking distance access for swimmers and spectators and comfortable, clean rooms. Then, you experience a significant drop off. Many complaints were heard about the sad conditions of rooms all the way up and down Dodge Street (a main thoroughfare in Omaha). Obviously this can happen anywhere, but when the hotel choices are limited, there's less incentive for the competition to–literally and figuratively–clean up their act.
(Honorable mention) Weather – I heard a lot of complaints about the humidity in Omaha, but I'm not going to list this as a true negative, because 2008 was gorgeous and significantly cooler (80's compared to 100) without the humidity. And while, yes, you can hold a meet in California and expect less humidity on average, mother nature just isn't something you can control. But because it was a big deal and some athletes complained about it being a cause for fatigue, it will get placed on the list.
You can, obviously, replace Omaha in this list with any other city and compare the ups and the downs. If Omaha isn't the place, how about Cowboys Stadium? The big screens may be bigger than the pool, but that might turn out to be one fantastically unique type of ambiance. Or maybe Los Angeles, New York or the entertainment jewel of the country, Las Vegas? Perhaps putting Trials in the middle of a normal destination location would draw more fans–both new and the old, hardcore swim fans–to come watch the Big Show and support the sport.
So, I'm turning this one over to the readers: What do you think about locking Olympic Trials into one consistent location? And if so, where and why?