A Familiar Home: Why Olympic Trials Returning to Indy Is a Perfect Fit


With the World Championships Trials recently concluded, it’s never too early to start thinking about the next Olympics Trials, scheduled just two short years away. On March 29, USA Swimming & the Indiana Sports Corp. officially announced that the U.S. Olympic Team Trials-Swimming would be held at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. For a variety of reasons, this return is almost a homecoming for what many consider to be the swimming capital of the United States.

Olympic Trials and Indy: A Match Made in Swimming Heaven

To fully understand the relationship between Indianapolis and the Olympic Trials, you have to take a deep dive into the historic event that is the selection meet for the Olympic Games. The year 1924 is when Trials first came to the city of Indianapolis. The top swimmers in the nation competed at Broad Ripple Park for their spot on the Olympic team competing in Paris that summer. Eighteen years later, in 1952, Broad Ripple Park once again hosted the best athletes in the country, this time only women, for the Olympic Trials.

Although the Trials in 1924 and 1952 helped build Indy’s reputation of hosting top-level swim meets, the opening of the famous Indiana University Natatorium-IUPUI in 1982 completely changed the relationship between the city of Indianapolis and the Olympic Trials.

The Nat

The Indiana University Natatorium-IUPUI, or The Nat as it’s more commonly referred to, was opened in 1982 and for four decades has welcomed the best swimmers in the world to compete in its historic pool. Since its opening, it has hosted every event from U.S. Nationals to the Pan American Games to the NCAA Championships, along with the FINA Junior World Championships in 2017. 

The Nat’s first time holding Olympic Trials came in 1984 when top-level swimmers such as Rowdy Gaines, Tracy Caulkins, Matt Biondi and a teenage Dara Torres competed for spots on the Olympic Teams. Following the 1984 Trials, The Nat played host to three more Trials – in 1992, 1996 and lastly in 2000 when a young star by the name of Michael Phelps made his first Olympic Team by finishing second in the 200 Butterfly.

The IUPUI Natatorium has also created several Trials traditions that continue to live on today. The most notable of those traditions is the painting (now hanging) of swimmers’ names on the diving-end wall after they made the Olympic Team.

After the 2000 Trials, the event started to outgrow The Nat. After leaving Indy, USA Swimming took Trials to Long Beach in 2004 and to Omaha in 2008, 2012, 2016 and 2021. But 24 years after the Trials left Indy, the city is getting ready to host the fastest meet on American soil once again.

Welcome “Home”

In just over 24 months, the best swimmers in the nation will bring their talents to Indy in hopes of getting a spot on the Olympic Team that will compete in Paris. As USA Swimming and Indiana Sports Corp get ready to plan for a smooth event, one individual knows a lot about how to run a smooth and efficient Olympic Trials.

Arlene McDonald, The Event Coordinator at the IUPUI Natatorium, has been the Meet Director at the past four Olympic Trials, with her years of experience, Arlene knows what the Trials can bring to the City of Indianapolis. “While we certainly host a lot of large events here, this gives us the unique opportunity to host a world class event for the first time, in a new venue, in an NFL Stadium. Hosting this prestigious event and selecting Team USA in a new and larger setting allows our city to be a leader in the sports innovation sector.”

Although Trials bring new opportunities to Indy, Arlene also believes it helps add to the history of swimming in Indiana “It gives us a chance to reflect on the rich history of the six trials that have been hosted in Indianapolis and to bring more people into the sport as we look back.” 

Excitement Builds

As the official countdown to Trials is now underway, people will get excited about the sport of swimming. Kyle Sockwell, an analyst and one of the most influential voices on Swimming Twitter, is ready for the Trials in Indy: “I’m excited to have everyone back on the same page and at one meet, with one goal…qualify for the Olympic Team.” 

With all that has happened in the past two years, Sockwell is ready to watch the best in the county take the water. “We’ve been through a lot these last few years and I can’t wait for everyone to be able to refocus and get some consistent uninterrupted training under their belts going into Paris.”

The Future

In June 2024, the eyes of the swimming world will turn to Indy as some of the best athletes take to the water for what is one of the fastest meets in the world.  Although the main focus of the event will be the elite-level athletes chasing berths to Paris, there is an additional focus behind Trials, and USA Swimming’s purpose as a whole.

Arlene McDonald, the Event Coordinator at the IUPUI Natatorium, put it best: “The Trials here in Indy at Lucas Oil Stadium are going to elevate the sport of swimming to new levels by providing a unique and exciting atmosphere in which to select Team USA while creating a lasting community impact through various water safety initiatives being planned throughout the city in conjunction with Trials.”

All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.

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