U.S. Olympic Trials: Opening Nights Provide an Atmosphere That Brings a Rush

Aaron Shackell: Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

U.S. Olympic Trials: Opening Night Provides an Atmosphere Like No Other

Swimming is more than just a sport in the State of Indiana, and nowhere was that more on display than on night one of the U.S. Olympic Trials.

In front of a crowd of more than 20,000 people, the most to ever attend an indoor swim meet, two athletes punched their ticket to the 2024 Paris Olympics Sunday night in a session that also featured a world record.

While the performances in the pool were nothing short of spectacular, the atmosphere brought by the fans in Indianapolis’ Lucas Oil Stadium was also deserving of the record they set.

It was a historic night for the sport of swimming, with an electric atmosphere to match, both of which speak to how far swimming has come as a sport in the 24 years since the last time Trials called Indy home.  


For most swim meets, preliminary sessions are often little more than a quiet morning swim in front of a handful of fans. At Lucas Oil Stadium over the first two days, that was not the case. 

On Day 1, when the first heat of the women’s 100 fly was called to the blocks, the crowd didn’t quiet down like at most swim meets. They did the opposite, coming to a thunderous roar before the starter quieted them down. It wasn’t a one-time occurrence; before every heat, the crowd remained engaged until it was time for the athletes to race.

The peak of intensity came when seven-time Olympic gold medalist Katie Ledecky hit the water for her 400 freestyle preliminary. Even Ledecky admitted that she had to remind herself to stay solid on the blocks, calling the atmosphere very energized. 

Opening day wasn’t a one off, either, with prelims on the second day drawing more than 17,000 spectators, the largest attendance at a preliminary session ever.


The final session at any major American meet is exciting. But Olympic Trials has a feeling around finals that defies easy explanations. It’s not just the swimmers that feel the energy on finals. The same aura could be felt in the concourse among the spectators, a sense that everyone in attendance knew they were about to witness history. And they did. 

Things kicked off with deck hosts Kaitlin Sandeno and Brendan Hansen igniting the crowd in a cheer. When action took off in the pool, it didn’t take long for history to be written.

In the second semifinal heat of the women’s 100 butterfly, Gretchen Walsh did something that no swimmer has been able to do at Olympic Trials since 2008, back in the era of supersuits: She broke a world record. The crowd erupted. 

In the final of the men’s 400 freestyle Aaron Shackell, from Carmel Swim Club just down the road, took on a field filled with Olympians and won. The hometown kid became an Olympian. The crowd went crazy.

In the final of the women’s 400 freestyle, Ledecky dominated to make the Olympic team for the fourth time. The crowd exploded.

The fans in attendance brought the energy. The swimmers, in return, put up performances for them to remember for years.

Day 1, in many ways, played out like a movie. With the hometown kid Shackell making his first Olympic team to the veteran Ledecky making her fourth, Trials put on display two career extremes.

Ledecky is Indianapolis, the veteran city that has hosted more Olympic Trials than any other city. Shackell is Lucas Oil Stadium, the newcomer and groundbreaker when it comes to swimming accomplishments. Both working with each other to accomplish something never done before.  

With every good movie comes an ending with a call to action, something the audience can leave with hope for about the future. Katie Ledecky summed that call to action up pretty well, when she said: “I hope there are some young swimmers out there that get excited about today and will be at a trials four years from now.”

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