Nebraska site will have temporary pools
The 2008 U.S. Olympic swimming team will be picked in Omaha, Neb., home of the College World Series but a city with little pool heritage.
USA Swimming announced its choice Tuesday, selecting Omaha over two higher-profile finalists -- San Antonio and St. Paul, Minn.
Omaha will be the first city to host the trials indoors using a temporary pool. The 2-year-old Qwest Center, normally a venue for college basketball and hockey, will be transformed into a natatorium seating about 14,000.
"I fully understand that some people might raise their eyebrows a little bit," said Chuck Wielgus, executive director of USA Swimming. "It's an interesting selection."
While all three finalists met the standards set by USA Swimming, the selection committee was impressed with Omaha's 56-year history of hosting the College World Series and shied away from cities where swimming might be overshadowed by more prominent events.
"We didn't want to be another event in a big city," Wielgus said. "We wanted to be a special event in a city that will be our partner. That's what we've gotten in Omaha."
San Antonio also lost out in bidding for the 2004 trials, which were held at a temporary outdoor pool in Long Beach, Calif.
The eight-day trials begin June 30, 2008, and end about a month before the start of the Beijing Games. A temporary 50-meter pool will be installed in the Qwest Center. A new convention center attached to the arena will have a second 50-meter pool, to be used for training and warmups.
The convention center also will host the "Aqua Zone," a sponsor and fan experience area.
USA Swimming hopes the trials will help spread the sport to an area of the country where it hasn't had much exposure. Along those lines, the local organizing committee plans to keep one of the temporary pools, which would be installed at a permanent location in Omaha.
"I know Nebraska is not exactly a swimming hotbed," Wielgus said. "This is a chance to introduce our sport to a new part of the country and generate a lot of enthusiasm."
As the permanent home of the College World Series, Omaha has shown a willingness to support amateur sports. Swimming is one of the most glamorous Olympic events, a status that shouldn't change with the return of Michael Phelps in '08.
He was the biggest star of the Athens Olympics, winning six golds and eight medals overall.
USA Swimming has attempted to bolster the sport's popularity in this country by holding Olympic trials in larger venues using temporary pools.
Record crowds turned out at Long Beach's temporary facility, which was set up in a parking lot. Two sessions drew 10,000 fans -- more than any permanent U.S. natatorium could handle.
Mayor Mike Fahey said Omaha's experience with the College World Series proves its ability to host a major event. Dan Morrissey, president of the Omaha Sports Commission, said the city wants to become the country's amateur sports capitol.
"Serving as host for the 2008 Olympic trials for swimming is a huge, huge step in achieving that goal," Morrissey said
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press
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