Americans swim to the Olympics through Omaha

Omaha played host to the US Swim Trials for the second consecutive time recently.  We did not get a chance to go in 2008, so we wanted to ensure we attended this year.

We attended the final night of the 10-dayTrials. It was technically the shortest evening of events, with only two races. We watched the women’s 50-meters freestyle and the men’s 1500-meters freestyle. The evening was capped with the actual introduction of the US Olympic swim team.

We made a full day of it. Our nephew was spending a few days with us, so we picked up an extra ticket for him. It was quite the week for the 13-year-old. A week earlier, I took him to the College World Series final. He saw the national champion crowned at his first CWS game. Then, a week later, he saw the US swim team named for the London Olympics.

We started the day with a nice stroll along the riverfront. We crossed the Bob Kerrey pedestrian bridge, which connects Nebraska and Iowa over the Missouri River. It is the longest pedestrian bridge in the United States (a little tourism bureau factoid). I love the bridge and look forward to any chance to walk it.

The Bob Kerrey bridge with the Omaha skyline in the background.


 Afterward, we enjoyed a great lunch at the new  Blatt Beer and Tables restaurant. It is owned by the folks who own Zestos ice cream, near the old baseball stadium. The restaurant has old photos of Rosenblatt adorning the walls. I recommend it. I was excited to see that one of the beers offered there is Bitburger. The German bier was one of my staples while assigned at Spangdahlem Air Base in the late 1970s and early ’80s.

The Aquazone

We took the nephew and headed to the Century Link Center Omaha for the Aquazone. USA Swimming sponsored the fan fest. The area consisted of exhibits, games and attractions, as well as merchant displays. A fun attraction for kids was the Bruce the Shark ride. It was similar to a bucking horse. Kids lined up for the ride, which lasted a few seconds. Our nephew seemed to enjoy it.

A really popular area of the fan fest was the autograph section. Adults and children lined up and stood for what seemed like hours (really maybe 20-30 minutes) to get autographs and pictures of their favorite Olympian swimmers. Team members, such as Amanda Weir, Alex Meyer and Clair Donahue, were nice enough to sit and sign autographs for everyone wanting one.

Olympians signing autographs.

Possibly, the most popular of the swimmers was Cullen Jones. People lined up beyond the roped off area and stood for about an hour to get his autograph. The nephew wanted one, so we started to wait. He decided a picture would be better, so we positioned ourselves and took some pics of Jones. We then went and stood in line for other people’s autographs. Later, we lucked out when Jones actually posed with people. The nephew got his pic…with an Olympian.

Nephew Don with Olympian Cullen Jones

I have a great deal of respect for Garrett Webber-Gale. He did not make the 2012 team but still met with the fans and signed autographs. He even gave a motivational talk while we waited for the other swimmers to join the autograph session.

Eventually, the swim trials started.

The event kicked off with a waterfall in the arena. Words such as USA, 2012 Olympics, and Omaha splashed down the waterfall in yellowish green tones. Designs also flowed downward.

The indoor waterfall

The meet started with the announcer encouraging “Omaha to get loud” as NBC cameras panned the crowd. NBC Sports televised the finals nightly.

The first race was to decide the women’s 50-meters Olympians. The top two finishers would be named to the team.


Dara Torres in the blue cap

Dara Torres, 45, was trying to make the team one last time. Torres made the 2008 Olympics in Omaha. This was her last attempt to make the Olympics again.

The race started with Torres in the third spot. She swam hard but came up short. Torres finished fourth. The winner was Jessica Hardy. Joining Hardy on the Olympic team was Kara Lynn Joyce. Torres was classy in defeat. She hugged both women and then went to be with her family.

Flames shot up as the swimmers finished the race in about 15 seconds.

In the men’s 1500-meters race, one swimmer started out the gate quickly and built a large lead early. He maintained the lead before running out of gas with about four laps to go in the 30-lap race. Andrew Gemmell and Connor Jaeger ended up swimming almost neck-and-neck toward the finish line . Gemmell edged out Jaeger. The two are now first-time Olympians. Each finished the race in less than 15 minutes.

Andrew Gemmell, winner of the US swim trials

Medal ceremonies were held for each event.

Then, a Beatles tribute band appeared from the retractable medal stand. The band entertained the 9500 people attending the event to get them psyched up for the London Olympics.

Once the band disappeared underground, the full women’s team popped up. The men followed shortly afterward.

The US Olympic swim team – men and women

We had such a patriotic feeling, seeing the team introduced and hearing the crowd chant “USA! USA!” Who wouldn’t have chills down their spine?

We will definitely be watching the Olympics on NBC for the swimmers among the other events we usually watch.

Trying to make the American Olympic team.