Tag Archives: Olympic swim trials

Omaha 2017 Ambassadors

March 4, 2017 by
Photography by Contributed

This article appears in the program book for the FEI World Cup Finals, produced by Omaha Magazine in March 2017.

Everyone involved in the equestrian world shares a passion—for the sport, for the horses, and for the beauty and nobility of the presentation. Lisa Roskens, founder of the Omaha Equestrian Foundation, counted on that enthusiasm to make the very first Omaha International a success. The number of local and regional volunteers who worked the event exceeded expectations back in 2012. But once the Federation Equestre Internationale awarded Omaha the 2017 FEI World CupTM Finals, Roskens knew organizers would have to overcome an obvious hurdle; one created by geography.

“This is the World Series of our sport, truly a global and national event,” says Roskens. “While most people involved in equestrian sports understand and follow the World CupTM, they don’t really understand Omaha.”

True to form, whenever confronted with a challenge, Roskens gathered her friends and colleagues in the OEF to brainstorm. How could they reach out to those who only know Omaha as a city locked in the middle of “flyover country?”

“We realized we needed a much more personalized outreach approach for those people to truly understand what they can expect (from Omaha) and to give them reasons to get excited about coming here,” she says. “So it wasn’t just mass mailers going out to generate excitement.”

Sybil Greene and Karen Ensminger, co-directors of Omaha 2017 Ambassadors

And so the Omaha 2017 Ambassadors program began. It quickly evolved into more than a platform to tout the positives of the Midlands. The scope of the effort, extending beyond neighboring states, also generated a groundswell of support for the FEI World CupTM Finals Omaha 2017 and for equestrian sports in general.

OEF board member Karen Ensminger and riding instructor Sybil Greene head the Ambassadors program. With the help of an office assistant and a few interns, they created an impressive information pipeline—one person at a time.

“Our goal was to get at least one person in all 50 states who would take information from us and then spread the word,” explains Greene. “We figured they would become a contact point for others in their area who wanted to know more about the World CupTM and Omaha in particular.”

The women started gathering Ambassadors by calling personal friends in the horse community. Having grown up in Maryland, Greene knows riders from the Chesapeake Bay area up through New Jersey.

Ensminger, a native New Yorker who has worked in Los Angeles and Boston, had no trouble making up her friends’ minds for them. “I called them up and said, ‘Look, this is what’s happening here in Omaha and I’m sure you want to get involved. So I’m going to sign you up as an Ambassador,’” she says as she laughs. The new recruits then received a packet of information from Omaha about the 2017 FEI World CupTM Finals. “I told them to put the flyers in their barns, tack stores, feed stores, their places of work, grocery stores, coffee shops, everywhere. And then, of course, I invited them to come.”

In addition to the invitation, Ambassadors received a navy blue ball cap emblazoned with the event’s colorful horse logo and “Omaha 2017 Ambassador” stitched in white underneath, an FEI World CupTM Finals pin, vouchers for a non-sold-out event, and discounted tickets.

To reach the massive number of riders they don’t know, Greene harnessed the power of social media. She created an Ambassadors Facebook page, where people could sign up electronically. She joined Facebook groups that had anything to do with horses—farms, stables, barns, riding clubs, horse dealers—and asked for people to volunteer as Ambassadors. She re-posted articles about the FEI World CupTM Finals Omaha 2017 and sent out media blasts, paying special attention to the ones listing things to do in Omaha.

“It’s been an extremely low financial output on our part,” says Ensminger.

Though striving for a modest goal of one contact per state, the committee managed to sign up multiple Ambassadors in several states, including 25 to 30 in horse-heavy states like Texas, California, and Montana. Many Ambassadors have taken up the invitation to attend the FEI World CupTM Finals. Some are even volunteering their services in whatever capacity needed during the events.

“The baseball people know about Omaha because of the College World Series, the swimming people because of the Olympic Swim Trials,” says Greene. “And now the horse world knows about us. We’re building on our reputation as a place for elite sports.”

Will the Ambassadors program, created especially for the Midwest’s first-ever international equestrian showdown, continue? “If participants see it as a valuable and fun experience, then we will consider expanding upon it,” says Roskens.

Judging from the number of selfies taken with Omaha ’17 merchandise and posted on social media, keeping the program might just be a plan.

Cheryl Johnson, Sue Morrison, and Karen Ensminger prepare mailings for the Ambassadors program.

Why Not Omaha?

June 16, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Just as it has been for the past 65 years, Omaha—especially downtown—will be hopping this summer.

Since 1950, the city has been known as home base for the College World Series—first at Rosenblatt, and for the past five years at TD Ameritrade Park.

But throughout the past 10-plus years—largely since downtown welcomed the CenturyLink Center in 2003—events and entertainment opportunities have exploded.

During that time, Omaha has hosted two (soon to be three) Olympic Swim Trials for USA Swimming at the C-Link, bringing thousands of people from throughout the country to River City.

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Prior to their arrival, many swimmers, visitors, and family members think of Omaha as a cow town (seriously, some think cows literally walk the streets). But once they arrive and see the majesty and versatility of the arena, complemented by the restaurants, shops, and other activities within walking distance, they gain a new perspective about the city.

So what makes Omaha such a growing Mecca for events like the College World Series, Swim Trials, or USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships (coming to town this August)? Or first- and second-round NCAA men’s basketball games? Or the NCAA Women’s Volleyball National Championships last year and in past years?

Why Omaha instead of sports towns like San Antonio or St. Louis?

Maybe the better question is “Why not?”

“Omaha is the perfect host city for these kinds of events for several reasons, but the biggest reason is the people who live here,” says College World Series of Omaha Inc. Director of Marketing and Events Dan Morrissey. “People in the Omaha area embrace events like the College World Series and Olympic Trials even if they aren’t sports fans.

“During the CWS, there is always a small contingent of fans cheering for their teams, but TD Ameritrade Park seats 24,000—and the majority of spectators are from the area. They are there because they enjoy and support the event. It’s really a matter of pride for people in Omaha.”

Omaha is also considered a jewel for big-name events because of geographic location, ease of
traffic and transportation, and proximity to the airport, among other amenities.

But buildings like the Century Link Center and TD Ameritrade Park—versatile, state-of-the-art venues—have opened doors to top events that would have been too big or sophisticated for the Civic Auditorium to properly host.

After many years at Rosenblatt Stadium, the NCAA considered relocating the CWS to another city if the powers that be in Omaha didn’t upgrade to a bigger, better facility—one that was closer to the action in downtown. TD Ameritrade Park opened as the solution in 2011 and has been a tremendous draw for fans—local and not-so-local—ever since.

The city’s commitment to keeping the CWS in town has made it possible for millions of dollars in hotel room rentals, food, transportation, and entertainment sales to impact the business community.

“Downtown is really the heartbeat of the city, and when the CWS was at Rosenblatt, it was very isolated from everything else that was happening in the growing downtown,” Morrissey says. “Moving the event to a new stadium within walking distance of restaurants, bars, shopping, and hotels greatly enhanced the overall experience. People love  coming to Omaha for the CWS.”

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People from coast to coast also have loved coming to attend the Olympic Swim Trials at the CenturyLink Center. The economic impact of the swim trials in 2012 was in the $30 million range, and this year’s trials—which has sold out almost every session and is welcoming a record number of athletes—could be around $40 million.

According to USA Swimming Assistant Executive Director Mike Unger, when USA Swimming was looking for a new spot to host the swim trials in 2008, a committee scouted several cities—and Omaha came out on top.

“We narrowed the search to two or three cities, and ultimately Omaha provided everything we needed and wanted to host a world-class event,” Unger said. “The versatility of the venue (CenturyLink Center) was a huge factor. Having a warm-down pool just steps away from the competition pool in an indoor facility is amazing.

“Very few arenas have that capability, and then having a 4-star hotel attached to the arena, and other hotels within walking distance of the arena, was a big selling point. Omaha has it all. We always feel very special when we come to Omaha.”

Another event calling Omaha home for several days this summer (and again in 2017) is the USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships. Centered around competition at Carter Lake (swimming), the Missouri River trails (biking) and TD Ameritrade Park (finish of the marathon), Omaha was a great fit for the triathlon after Milwaukee hosted the past three.

A big selling point for the event to come to Omaha was the proximity of the airport to Carter Lake, where the event will be headquartered, as well as the city’s central location–within a day’s driving distance or less for the majority of the competitors and their families. Plus, the city’s ability to host larger events like the CWS and the swim trials proved Omaha could handle an event of this scope.

“Omaha really knows how to roll out the red carpet for these kinds of events; everyone involved definitely knows what they’re doing,” said USA Triathlon National Events Senior Manager Brian D’Amico. “Hotels and restaurants are all within close proximity to the lake and, with upwards of 5,000 total athletes—not to mention families, friends, officials, etc.—we needed the availability of between 2,500 and 3,000 room nights for everyone. Omaha was able to provide that and then some.”

D’Amico also referenced the tremendous backing and support from city officials in USA Triathlon’s decision to hold its event—which is expected to contribute between $11 and $12 million to city and business coffers—in Omaha.

“We received letters of support from the mayor, local sports commission, police, and other city departments committing their support to us and our athletes,” he said. “We need to have roads completely blocked off for the marathon section of the triathlon, and that takes full city support. Omaha brings that.”

Omahan Susie Sisson, who recently bought tickets for the July 1 session of this year’s Olympic Swim Trials and has attended the past two trials at the Centurylink Center, says the reason to choose Omaha begins and ends with the people and their enthusiasm for sporting events.

“People here love sports, especially amateur sports, and will buy tickets, even if they don’t know much about that particular sport,” said Sisson, a teacher at Marian High School. “These types of events always seem to be sold out, or nearly sold out, and I think that’s because people here love to feel like they’re participating in something important and exciting.

“On a practical level, the city also has a built-in infrastructure of hotels, convention space, restaurants, and tourist attractions. It’s easy for organizers and fans alike to feel welcomed and accommodated.”  Encounter

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Creative Concessions

January 8, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

When visiting Century Link Center to cheer on Creighton’s Jays, marvel at Terence Crawford’s muscle, behold Olympic swim trial backstrokes, or sing along to Janet, Taylor, Ozzy, and Elton’s every lyric, gourmet food often isn’t on your dancecard for the evening.

It soon might be. Levy Restaurants’ latest menu makes dining at the C-Link less afterthought and more main event.

Creative-Concessions-3Sure, the arena offers chicken fingers and popcorn, but customers will also find unique artisan eats. Brad Howard, assistant director of operations for Levy Restaurants in Omaha, wants folks to skip the pre-show restaurant rush. 

“We want to make it a destination, where people plan to eat here at a game or concert. We see each stand as a mini-restaurant, not a concessions concept,” says Howard, whose team re-envisions the menu annually and continually adjusts based on requests and item reception.

New items include bruschetta fries, hot medium-cut fries under a cold blend of fresh tomatoes and herbs, perfectly balanced pesto, and balsamic reduction drizzle. This pairs well with the meatball sub, meatballs made from both beef and pork served on a sturdy bun with provolone and marinara, dusted with parmesan and herbs.

“We’re excited to offer more fresh, from-scratch items. We’re all about incorporating a restaurant mentality into the concession world,” says Sous Chef Darren Hill, adding they’ve worked to ensure the menu’s homemade aspect doesn’t slow production, allowing customers a quick return to their seats.

Most items, including sauces, are housemade. All the burgers are hand-pattied.

The whiskey barbecue burger stands out. A potato bun houses a half-pound Omaha Steaks burger topped with cheddar, bacon, caramelized onion, and whiskey-barbecue sauce. A turkey burger infused with basil and mozzarella comes with roasted red peppers and smoked aioli. These are both crowned with a pepper and served with fries.

Creative-Concessions-`The brisket waffle fries resemble high-class poutine. Nicely crisped waffle fries are topped with cheddar-barbecue sauce, house-smoked brisket, pico de gallo, and barbecue-crema drizzle. The pico provides these cheese fries with freshness, and the brisket provides substance that impressively renders this popular snack into a well-rounded meal.       

An oblong-shaped flatbread pizza comes in margherita or a combination with pepperoni and sausage on it, each with marinara on crisp baked-in-house flatbread brushed with herb-infused oil.   

Alongside reuben and turkey reuben sandwiches are reuben fritters: corned beef, sauerkraut, and cheese breaded with rye and panko bread crumbs, served with a side of Thousand Island and an order of chips.

The blueberry brat is a continued 2014 item—a Stoysich blueberry bratwurst served with fresh jalapeno and savory/sweet maple-bacon jam. One needn’t be a Bluejays fan to enjoy this local-focused gem. 

Adult beer floats are as awesome as they sound: Two scoops of vanilla afloat in a choice of Guinness, Lindeman’s Raspberry Lambic, Root Cellars’ Alcoholic Root Beer, Green Flash Double Stout, or Brickway Chocolate Coffee Stout. Floats are joined by three adult sundaes: s’mores, Guinness-brownie, and chocolate mint avalanche.

These and other delicious dishes may have people indiscriminately buying tickets to whatever, just to indulge in the food. Bon appetit, arena-goers! Encounter

Visit centurylinkcenteromaha.com for more information.