Before we entered the CenturyLink Center on the first day of the 2016 Olympic Swim Trials, my 8-year-old daughter, Janie, and 7-year-old son, Jeff—both budding swimmers—noticed and commented on the pictures of the many notable athletes on the doors and large banners. Favorites Katie Ledecky and Michael Phelps were featured on the front of the building.
“Look, Dad, it’s Katie,” Janie said. “I can’t wait to watch her swim. She’s my favorite.”
I couldn’t wait to see her compete, either. Ever since she won gold at the 2012 Olympics at just 15 years old, I’d been a big fan of hers as well. What talent!
My kids and I came to Omaha from Philadelphia with their swimming club. Dozens of under-10-year-olds and a large group of their parents shuffled these aquatic athletes through the chlorine-scented center; the energy was palpable.
I felt fortunate that we were able to get tickets this year. After all, for the first time in the history of Olympic Trials, every session—night and evening—sold out. Needless to say, we were excited and ready to watch some fast swimming along with more than 200,000 other fans.
We had decided to come just a few weeks before the start of the event, so we chaperones/organizers were thankful that we were able to use many of the city’s tourism resources.
I knew that the tourism bureau worked with USA Swimming to create a special site for teams and fans looking to reserve their hotel rooms — it was such an easy process!
Everyone at the Omaha Visitors Center (and everyone we encountered throughout the city) was incredibly helpful and kind to us. I could tell they love welcoming visitors to Omaha; they were great about offering personalized recommendations, too.
They suggested some excellent restaurants in the Old Market, which is close to the arena. Our favorite was the appropriately named for this weekend’s swimming events Upstream Brewing Company. Janie and Jeff ordered big plates of pasta with garlic bread and salads—young swimmers have to carb up, after all! The kids had a blast and the food was fantastic. I took advantage of being at a local brewery by ordering The O! Gold Light Lager, which was fresh and crisp, and the perfect complement.
After eating, we took a leisurely stroll through the Old Market and downtown Omaha. Along the way, we noticed the fantastic job the city had done to celebrate and promote the Swim Trials being back for a third time in eight years (they were held in Omaha during the 2008, 2012 and 2016 trials).
The kids ran to the colorful cut-out SWIM letters on the corner of 10th and Farnam streets in front of the Visitors Center and insisted we take a family selfie with them. Then, they saw the swimmer figures floating in the water of the Gene Leahy Pedestrian Mall lagoon—further signifying the city’s support and creating enthusiasm and excitement for the eight-day event.
“Dad, is that how we look in the water?” Jeff asked. “No, buddy,” I said with a smile. “You and Janie both look a lot faster and stronger.” He beamed with pride.
We made it to several morning and evening sessions during the three days we were in Omaha for Swim Trials, and we—and the entire swimming club—had a fantastic time. While the morning swims were fun to watch, the evening semifinals and finals races—made even more spectacular and engaging by the lights, pyrotechnics, effects, entertainment and music—were definitely the highlights of the meet.
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During both morning and evening sessions, Janie and Jeff were able to get close enough to the pool deck to get a few autographs. Janie got Ledecky’s signature on her program, and she said it was the greatest day of her life. I have no doubt it fueled my little swimmer to want to be on this same deck in the future.
“That was so cool!” Janie shouted as she showed me her new autograph. “I want to be just like her one day.”
At the same time, Jeff was able to take a fast-moving selfie of Nathan Adrian during one of the morning swims. He also managed to get an autograph from rising star Ryan Murphy—a fellow backstroker. Jeff was beside himself. He was so excited to get a form of acknowledgement from one of his sports idols.
“I can’t wait to watch Ryan swim at the Olympics on TV,” Jeff said. “I hope he wins gold in both backstroke events.”
While the kids enjoyed personal motivation as young swimmers, I had my own metamorphosis as a proud parent watching my children learn about themselves as young people and athletes.
I know the location for the 2020 Olympic Swim Trials has yet to be decided, but we—as in my family, as well as their club teammates and families—all genuinely hope it returns to Omaha.
The central location is great and proximity to the airport can’t be beaten. The ease of getting around the city to our hotel and to fantastic restaurants, shops, museums and other attractions (we didn’t make it to the world-class Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium this time, but we plan to explore it next time) make this an ideal spot for an event like this. I couldn’t imagine a city that would be better able to host such an extraordinary sports event.
Being from the East Coast, I had been excited to explore Omaha for the first time—and I ended up being incredibly impressed. This is a thriving, energetic metropolitan city with some of the most genuine, helpful people I’ve ever encountered. We will definitely be back—hopefully for the next Swim Trials—and maybe even sooner for the 2017 NCAA Men’s College World Series or 2018 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.