What the Olympic Swimming Trials Mean to the State of Indiana

What the Olympic Swimming Trials Mean to the State of Indiana

In the State of Indiana, sports are a sacred pastime. 

From high school boys basketball, dubbed “Hoosier Hysteria,” to the backing of the Indianapolis Colts – regardless of record – Indiana residents rally around their sports teams, and swimming is no exception.

Consider this quote from IHSAA Commissioner Paul Neidig: “High school sports in Indiana are special,” he said. “They are a meaningful part of our state culture and are essential to the fabric of Hoosier communities. They represent our values and the very best of us. They remind us of who we are and what we stand for.”

Swimming in Indiana

It’s hard to find an exact date to when swimming became such a phenomenon in Indiana. Was it in 1924 when the Indianapolis first hosted the Olympic Trials? Did the passion emerge in 1928 when Indianapolis Shortridge brought home the first IHSAA State Title? Or was it when Doc Counsilman led his Indiana Hoosiers to an unprecedented six straight NCAA team titles from 1968-1973? Maybe it has been somewhere in-between the unprecedented run of Carmel High School winning 38 straight (1987-present) IHSAA Girls State Titles.

Whenever the date, the state has long been enamored by the sport of swimming from high school through the professional ranks. Moreover, even though more than three decades have passed since the legendary Counsilman walked the pool deck as head coach of the Hoosiers, swimming has remained an integral part of the fabric of Indiana sports culture. 

At the high school level, this past winter upward of 10,000 combined spectators traveled to Indianapolis to witness the IHSAA Swimming & Diving State Finals at the IU Natatorium. On the high school level, Indiana is unique in the way its state championship is conducted. Unlike most other states, where swimming is separated by divisions, the IHSAA recognizes swimming and diving as a one class sport. This means all schools, regardless of size, compete against each other. The meet is so competitive that the state runnerup can put up results that would win a championship in other states. 

One longtime Indiana high school and club head coach, who has been a part of more than 30 IHSAA championship meets, said the only meet that he has attended that matched the noise level was the 1996 Olympic Trials.

On the collegiate level, thousands of fans packed the IU Natatorium for the 2024 Men’s NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships. While fans were loud throughout the four-day competition, one of the loudest moments of the meet occurred when Indiana’s Brendan Burns overcame the odds and defended his title in the 100 backstroke out of Lane One. A national title mixed with the Hoosiers love for the sport was the perfect combination for a pumped-up IU Natatorium.

Olympian Kaitlin Sandeno, who made her first Olympic Team at the 2000 Olympic Trials in Indy, still remembers how passionate the Indiana fans were.

“At my first Olympic Trials, I really felt how the city of Indianapolis rallied behind sports, let alone swimming,” she said. “The environment was just so electric.”

Hoosier Hysteria

To fully grasp the meaning of Trials to Indiana, one has to understand the meaning of basketball in Indiana, specifically the high school basketball tournament. Nicknamed Hoosier Hysteria, the IHSAA Boys Basketball Tournament is one of the pride and joys of Indiana athletics. It has become such a pop-culture phenomenon that it inspired the 1986 film Hoosiers, which tells the story of tiny Milan High School taking down mighty South Bend Central.

Of the 12-biggest high school gymnasiums in the country, 10 Indiana gyms are on the list, including the top-5. To highlight this point, Trials is not the first non-football sporting event to take place in an Indiana NFL Stadium. In 1990, a crowd of more than 41,000 watched Bedford North Lawrence, led by Damon Bailey, take down Concord, 63-60, in the Hoosier Dome, the then home of the Indianapolis Colts. 

In 49 other states, it is just basketball. This is Indiana. 

Other Spectacles

The support behind the future of sports in Indiana is just as big. When women’s basketball phenomenon Caitlin Clark was drafted first overall by the WNBA’s Indiana Fever, the state went crazy. In Clark’s first five home games this season, she helped break the organization’s season-attendance record, while also helping nearly quadruple the per game average attendance from just under 4,500 to more than 15,500.

When talking about Hoosier support of its sport events and teams, it would be discourteous to omit the Indianapolis 500. Taking place at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on the Sunday of Memorial Day Weekend, the “Brickyard” has a capacity of more than 257,000, which makes it the largest capacity sport venue in the world. 

This past year, more than 300,000 dedicated fans waited through a four-hour rain delay for the start of the race – many of them race-crazed Hoosiers. The wait paid off with a race that came down to the final lap, where Josef Newgarden moved past Pato O’Ward in the waning stages of the race. It was a finish that was akin to the 400 freestyle relay from the Beijing Olympics. 


In less than a week, when thousands of swim fans from across the country file into Lucas Oil Stadium, expect to see a large contingent of native Hoosiers in attendance, regardless if they have a background in swimming. While residents of Indiana are not unlike other places to rally around the sports that represent their state, what makes Indiana unique is the dedication to all levels of sport.

Neidig summed up perfectly what it means to be able to represent a sports team in Indiana. He noted: “In every community across Indiana, the name on the front of a high school jersey stands for something. It provides hope. It represents heart. It demonstrates pride.”

While Neidig talks about what high school athletics means to Indiana, the same statement can be applied to all Indiana sports, no matter the level. Even though basketball rules the Indiana sports landscape – and for good reason – that doesn’t take away what all other athletic ventures bring to that state and its people. And that loyalty will be on display in Lucas Oil Stadium.

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Coach John
Coach John
1 day ago

How important and exciting for Indiana is the sport of swimming and having the OT in Indiana?….. important enough that we are keeping the OT Comp pool in Indiana and bringing it to Fort Wayne! It’s historic and going to make a huge impact! Check the project out.

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