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Beideck: Six months out, it looks like the U.S. Swim Trials are on track

Beideck: Six months out, it looks like the U.S. Swim Trials are on track

As soon as the Tokyo Olympics were delayed until next year given the global pandemic, amateur athletes from around the world had to gauge if they could commit to another year of training and put real life on hold a while longer.

Notifications about tickets to local sporting events are, again, beginning to land in inboxes.

There still aren’t any offerings for the first quarter of 2021, but there have been tickets to one event available since last fall — the U.S. Olympic Swim Trials at the CHI Health Center from June 13 to 20.

There's less than six months remaining until the start of the event that has called Omaha home since 2008. That glow at the end of the tunnel now looks more like a prerace light show instead of an impediment that could again derail the Trials as the pandemic did last summer.

As 2020 taps out this week, it’s getting easier to imagine the 2021 Trials, where an arena with fans rejoins the reality of everyday life.

Picture those light shows and fireworks — innovative elements that Omaha organizers implemented to make the Swim Trials an event that athletes say surpassed Olympic atmospheres in Beijing, London and Rio de Janeiro — before the 28 championship races.

Under the stewardship of local leaders and USA Swimming executives, the Trials have evolved from a tape-delayed highlight package to prime-time NBC programming.

Even in the first Trials since 2004 — the last non-Omaha event hosted outdoors in Long Beach, California — without Michael Phelps competing, tickets aren’t easy to get.

More detailed plans will be available in mid-January. Roughly 87% of the tickets have been sold already, and almost 1,300 swimmers have qualified for the biggest meet of most of their lives.

Conducting the U.S. Open in November — albeit virtually in venues from Beaverton, Oregon, to Sarasota, Florida — was a big step. Swimming at those natatoriums — one of those being the Downtown Wellmark YMCA in Des Moines — brought back the element of competition, and in the safest way possible.

Des Moines was the site of the final Pro Swim Series event before pandemic-related restrictions were implemented around the globe. Almost one year to the date — March 3 to 6 — the first single-site Pro Swim Series event of 2021 is scheduled in San Antonio.

Irvine, California; Richmond, Virginia; and San Antonio are the three sites for another virtual Pro Swim Series event set for Jan. 14 to 17. Four sectional meets will be contested in March, and two other Pro Swim events are scheduled for April and May to wrap up the pre-Trials national competition.

The times from all nine U.S. Open sites were combined into one final set of results to determine the 2020 champions. Regan Smith, the world record-holder in the 100- and 200-meter backstroke from Lakeville, Minnesota, won the combined 200-meter butterfly while competing in Des Moines.

Smith, who deferred her enrollment at Stanford to next season, finished second overall to Kathleen Baker in the 100 backstroke by 0.13 seconds. That’s the primary disadvantage to virtual competition.

Baker and Smith most likely would have been in neighboring lanes in a single-site final. Maybe Smith would have found the extra gear to win. Baker could have won by an even bigger margin in a head-to-head duel.

Those are the what-ifs that will be sated when the calendar turns to June. Whetting the appetite in San Antonio; Mission Viejo, California; and Indianapolis in scheduled single-site Pro Swim Series meets before then will only add to the intrigue in Omaha.

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Steve covers swimming, softball, track and field, the Omaha Lancers and more for The World-Herald.

Related to this story

Anyone even loosely associated with Omaha’s summer classic had a three-month notice when the COVID-19 pandemic settled on the country in mid-March and the NCAA canceled “The Greatest Show on Dirt.” While denial may have been an effective coping mechanism in April and May, the empty reality is impossible to ignore this week without college baseball’s showcase event in town for a 71st straight year.

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