Omaha will be taking on some bigger rivals in pursuit of the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials after hosting the eight-day swimming event in both 2008 and 2012.
And by bigger we mean venue size.
Of the six cities submitting official bids, three are proposing that they would hold the 2016 U.S. Trials in domes — Indianapolis (Lucas Oil Stadium), San Antonio (Alamodome) and St. Louis (Edward Jones Dome). Both the Indianapolis and St. Louis facilities are homes to NFL teams.
Along with Omaha, the two other sites are Greensboro, N.C., and Jacksonville, Fla. The six cities announced by USA Swimming on Monday emerged from more than a dozen that showed initial interest last summer.
Omaha Sports Commission President Harold Cliff said the city believes it has put together a competitive bid to bring the U.S. Trials back to the CenturyLink Center. The unofficial dates for 2016 would be July 4 through July 11, in advance of the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
“I think the main thing that stands out is the fact that you’ve got a combination of domes and arenas,” Cliff said. “In terms of Omaha, I think everyone knows what we can produce and have produced, and the atmosphere we offer. And the challenge in a dome is: Can you generate that same atmosphere?”
Omaha drew more than 160,000 fans in both 2008 and 2012, with a Trials-record 164,585 for 15 sessions last summer.
San Antonio was the other finalist for 2008 when Omaha won its first bid. USA Swimming then dealt exclusively with Omaha in striking a deal to return in 2012.
Of the six going forward, Omaha is the only city that has not been host to either a Super Bowl or an NCAA basketball Final Four.
“There’s a general excitement about all six bids — not one over the other,” USA Swimming Assistant Executive Director Mike Unger said Monday night. “The sport has gone to another level, which is a wonderful thing for us, and we’re riding a nice wave right now.”
USA Swimming will begin evaluating the six cities and bids in coming weeks and making site visits. It will then select finalists before ultimately making a recommendation to the USA Swimming board of directors, Executive Director Chuck Wielgus and the U.S. Olympic Committee.
Unger said the 2016 host would be selected by late April.
Unlike in 2005, when Omaha began the process for 2008, competing cities have made closed bids rather than agreeing to a set rights fee, although a rights fee is included. Cliff said he’s unsure what newcomers such as St. Louis, Jacksonville or Greensboro might put on the table over and above the rights fee.
“It could be that they’re all very similar, or they could be all over the map,” he said.
Indianapolis has hosted several U.S. Olympic Trials in the past — most recently in 2000 — but at the 4,200-seat IUPUI Natatorium. Lucas Oil Stadium is the 63,000-seat home of the Indianapolis Colts that also has been host to a Super Bowl, NCAA basketball Final Four and two Big Ten football championship games.
“Omaha was a great venue,” Arlene McDonald, executive director of Indiana Swimming, told the Indianapolis Star. “But it’s a next step. I do think there’s some intrigue.”
McDonald knows how the event works in an arena from serving as meet director for both U.S. Trials in Omaha. But Indianapolis officials also noted that the 2015 World Championships will be held in a 70,000-seat soccer stadium in Kazan, Russia.
“It could make sense for USA Swimming to do something similar,” Dale Neuburger, a vice president of FINA, the international federation for aquatic sports, told the Star.
According to the St. Louis Sports Commission, its bid called for the temporary 50-meter competition and warm-up pools to be on the floor of the Edward Jones Dome, with the AquaZone in the adjoining America’s Center complex. Omaha had the warm-up pool and AquaZone in the CenturyLink convention center.
Unger told The World-Herald last summer that USA Swimming didn’t have stars in its eyes after the success in Long Beach in 2004 was followed up by the next steps happening in Omaha, but the bar obviously has been raised. Thus the competitive situation for 2016.
“The bids now are far better than what we received eight or 12 years ago,” he said. “They just are.”
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