Omaha came out of the 2008 U.S. Olympic Trials with a head start on getting the high-profile swimming meet back in 2012.
The process will be a little different for 2016, and Omaha might even wrestle with the decision of whether to go after the Trials a third time.
USA Swimming recently told The World-Herald that it will launch a request for proposals this fall, effectively opening the process up to all comers. It's something the organization didn't do four years ago when it allowed Omaha an exclusive opportunity to negotiate for 2012.
Last month, USA Swimming invited 13 prospective host cities to meet in Colorado Springs, Colo. Two or three others were not able to make it but remain interested.
“I will say Omaha was one of those,” said Mike Unger, USA Swimming assistant executive director.
“We loved what happened in '08 and we love what's happening in '12, and there certainly could be a future. But as opposed to last time, when we did a pre-emptive discussion, we're not doing that this time and we will go through the RFP process.”
U.S. Trials are not typically anchored to one site in any of the major Olympic sports. Swimming was a brief exception when the U.S. Trials were held at the IU Natatorium in Indianapolis in 2000, 1996 and 1992, as well as 1984. The U.S. Trials for track and field return to Eugene, Ore., in 2012 after being there in 2008; that followed the meet being in Sacramento, Calif., in 2004 and 2000.
Omaha Sports Commission President Harold Cliff, who also has been the chief operating officer for both Swim Trials in Omaha, said the city is not ready to discuss its intentions.
“The party line at the moment is that our focus is on '12,” Cliff said. “We're going to get this event finished before we start worrying about '16.”
There are some reasons why Omaha might consider stepping away from the negotiating table:
»The 2016 Trials will be the first since 1996 without Michael Phelps, who was a driving force behind ticket sales in 2008 and 2012. Eleven-time Olympic medalist Natalie Coughlin also could be done on the women's side.
»After pouring its resources into two Trials, how much better could Omaha make a third one?
»Would the city be going to the well once too often with local fans, corporate sponsors and the CenturyLink Center, which this year will be taken out of commission for nearly eight weeks because of the pools built in the arena and convention center for the Mutual of Omaha Swimvitational (June 8 through 10), U.S. Trials (June 25 through July 2) and U.S. Masters Summer Nationals (July 5 through 8)?
»It might behoove the sport to move the Trials around to assist with development and exposure.
Any decision on bidding would be made by the Omaha Sports Commission “after appropriate consult” with other city leaders, Cliff said.
About eight to 10 cities expressed interest in the 2012 Trials but knew USA Swimming was first going to negotiate with Omaha. Unger would not say which cities are asking about 2016 — two that have been reported are Greensboro, N.C., and Jacksonville, Fla. — but many will be in Omaha during these Trials to study the operation and go through a question-and-answer session.
RFPs will be taken for about four months starting in September. USA Swimming then would narrow the list next spring and make a decision by next May.
Whoever wins will land an event that had a total attendance of 160,003 in 2008 and an economic impact on Omaha that was estimated at $40 million to $50 million. With a significant bump in competitors in 2012, officials are predicting in excess of 20,000 hotel room nights to be booked this time.
Omaha no doubt has raised the bar and potential parameters for the event, Unger said, but USA Swimming hasn't yet scratched out any new guidelines or criteria for future hosts.
“Certainly it's been a very, very nice fit in Omaha — with size of city, hotels downtown, size of arena, support, donations — and a wonderful thing for USA Swimming,” he said. “But whether there will be a different formula for how we do it, a lot depends on the cities that are interested.”
Asked if he thought the success in Omaha has teased USA Swimming to think even bigger, Unger said, “We don't have stars in our eyes; we have our feet on the ground.”
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