June 28, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The U.S. Olympic swim team trials officially take place over a period of eight days, from June 26 through July 3, but preparations for the massive event close down the entire CenturyLink Center to the public for 47 days beginning in late May. During that period, the entire facility transforms into what Director of Communications Kristi Andersen considers its own unique community.

“A typical event for us—a concert, a basketball game, a consumer show—probably would take a few days in set-up. Or less, maybe just a day,” she says. “So this is very different. It’s really a city, a little city working to make this fly. It’s such a tremendous undertaking, but it’s one that everyone involved seems to take on happily and with pride.”

At heart of the swim trials are 1,800 athletes representing all 50 states (a maximum of 52 swimmers will make the final 2016 Olympic team), accompanied by 750 coaches and 600 support staff. Over a tight three-week build schedule, a 10-lane competition pool (50 meters long by 26 meters wide and 9 feet deep) will be installed in the arena and an 8-lane warm-up pool (50 meters by 25 meters and 7 feet deep) will be installed in the convention center. The two pools will hold a total of two million gallons of water.

Kristi Andersen

Kristi Andersen

“It’s a pretty aggressive timeframe…everybody has to pull together, whether it’s the electricians, the  plumbers, the pool installers, the decking people, the special effects and lighting (people). It’s many, many moving parts that need to be coordinated for it to be done correctly,” says Harold Cliff, president and executive director of the Omaha Sports Commission, which coordinates the efforts of entities from all over the world who are involved in the various facets of the event.

“When people come into the building we want them to think that it’s a swimming pool, not a basketball court with a swimming pool on top of it. That’s easier said than done.”

“This event is really a true partnership and it’s so collaborative on many levels. The U.S. Olympic Committee, it’s their event. USA Swimming and the Omaha Sports Commission run the event and manage it, but there are so many other groups, community groups and others, involved,” Andersen says. “I just think it’s a testament to our community. There are a thousand people who have signed up to volunteer to work this event. And our staff is just thrilled to be part of the action.”

More than 90 percent of this year’s volunteers also helped during the 2008 or 2012 trials, Cliff adds, and most of them are from the area.

“It’s a very solid core group of talented people who’ve done it before and work well together and understand the event,” Andersen says.

The list of additional supporting organizations and personnel is exhaustive: law enforcement will provide security, NBC will air all eight evenings of competition live with preliminary coverage on NBCSN, Levy Restaurants will present food service, 300 members of the media are already credentialed for the event period, and medical support will be offered through The Nebraska Medical Center. Andersen and Cliff both emphasize that’s just a glimpse of who is ultimately involved.

The CenturyLink Center is on a very short list of facilities around the country that can be realistically considered to host the swim trials because of the event’s unique logistical needs, Cliff says. A stellar performance when it hosted for the very first time in 2008 led the way to successful bids again in 2012 and 2016.

“There are a number of factors. The venue itself works exceptionally well for this type of competition when you have to put two Olympic-size pools in on a short-term basis. Having such a short transition space between the arena and convention center means the swimmers’ warm-up and warm-down area is very close to the competition area. The building itself is a good size and it has modern conveniences and good technology,” Cliff says. “The hotel proximity in downtown is very good, as is the distance to and from the airport. And there are lots of restaurants, et cetera.”

More than 29,000 hotel room-nights are already booked for the swim trials period, and as of mid-April, well over 200,000 tickets were already sold, with 14 of the 15 sessions sold out. These record-setting numbers exceed even that of the 2008 swim trials, which attracted more spectators than any other swimming event in U.S. history—including the Olympic competitions hosted in Atlanta and Los Angeles. The estimated economic impact for Omaha is over $40 million.

“It’s really a good-news scenario for the community and Nebraska as a whole. The economic impact will certainly be very substantial,” Cliff says.

Plus, it’s great exposure for Omaha. And not only have the local media and the community embraced the swim trials, but past visitors widely report being treated well by friendly locals.

“The community is our greatest asset,” Cliff says.

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Visit usaswimming.org for more information about the event.

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