Friday, July 6, 2012

Final Thoughts from the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials

I got home from the Olympic Trials five days ago, and I would love to go back. What a week in Omaha! For eight straight nights, 14,000 people watched some seriously epic racing, and millions more caught the action live on NBC. While no one really blew the doors off timewise, I think many coaches kept 2008 in the back of their mind. After nine world records four years ago in Omaha, many Americans fell somewhat flat at the Olympics, with Michael Phelps and Rebecca Soni the major exceptions. This time, analysts buzzed all week that many of the biggest names hedged their bets in Omaha, mostly successfully, with the big goals a month down the road.

You should have seen my analysis blogs, eight days worth of them. Right now, though, I want to share some thoughts on my experience from the stands in Omaha. I first walked into the CenturyLink Center at 10:15am on Friday morning, June 29. From the minute I first laid eyes on the pool in the middle of the arena, WOW! Two hours later, I had down the lay of this facility. I found the coaches and athletes section by the blocks, where I watched local swimmer Zach Lierley race in the 200 back with his coach and teammates.

Over the course of that day, I learned where to go to find people. The Hilton across the street from the CenturyLink Center, connected via Skybridge, proved to be a hotbed for activity in the middle of the afternoon and after finals. Something was always happening in that hotel. At 4:00 every afternoon, I tried to make my way to the end of the Skybridge in the CenturyLink Center to see athletes on their way in, which proved successful. Twice, Michael Phelps walked up, and his National Guard escort helped him to proceed pass the screaming gaggle of fans without a peep.

Then, finals. Wow. If prelims were a pumped-up swim meet, finals were an event. Lights, fireworks, and a packed house screaming their guts out. First up for me, I watched the men's 200 breast, where Scott Weltz and Clark Burckle upset favorites Eric Shanteau and Brendan Hansen. Don't believe I was there? Well, fire up those DVRs and watch the last 50 again. With about 30 meters to go in the race, the camera pans up slightly. If you look carefully, you can see a guy in a blue shirt that reads "DUKE" one seat in from the aisle and about three rows down from concourse level. Yep, I found myself on national television.

Best race I saw? Men's 200 IM, hands down. I watched the two best swimmers in the world duke it out in one of swimming's ultimate races. Never did more than a tenth separate those two at any wall. Phelps and Lochte have dominated the 200 IM so much the past eight years that two men who have ranked in the top-three in the world, Eric Shanteau and Tyler Clary, both decided against swimming the event. With third-place Conor Dwyer four seconds away, Phelps and Lochte battled back and forth to the wall, and Phelps ended up taking the touch just barely. I don't think a single member of the sold-out crowd had their butt in a seat for the last lap of that race.

After extending my trip one more day to stay for day seven, I ran into the most popular swimmer of the Trials: Ryan Lochte. On Sunday morning, I had my computer bag checked at security, but I didn't make it into the arena before people started running to outside the convention center. Could it be? Yep. Lochte, nowhere to be seen thus far, strolled out in the open on his morning off, stopping freely for autographs and pictures. And, yeah, I wanted a picture with Ryan Lochte.

Me and the best swimmer in the world the last two years, Ryan Lochte. You can guess which one is me.
I think that to say I enjoyed my three days in Omaha would be a vast understatement. After probably the best weekend of my life, I have so many people to thank. First and foremost, thanks to Jason Marsteller and Peter Bick for sharing their hospitality with me for three nights. Swimming World has been great to me for three years now, and I appreciate everything so much. I really enjoyed getting to meet John Lohn and Jeff Commings and talk swimming with them, and I even got to spend an afternoon with Brent Rutemiller at a Fitter and Faster Tour event.

Several competing swimmers and busy coaches took time out of their schedules to stop for a few words with me, and I couldn't have appreciate their time more. All the thanks to Elizabeth Beisel, Ed Moses, Katie Hoff, Andrew Gemmell, Nick Thoman, Austin Surhoff, Haley Anderson, Elliott Keefer, Ricky Berens, and plenty more. Among coaches, three Daves – Durden, Marsh, and Salo – all took time to share their thoughts with me. I finally got to meet veteran coach Alex Braunfeld, a Facebook friend I've had some nice conversations with over the last year. Having grown up watching the 2004 and 2008 Games, I really enjoyed getting to meet the likes of Aaron Peirsol and Ian Crocker. Having watched so many Trials and Olympics on TV, I appreciated Dan Hicks, Rowdy Gaines, and Bob Costas all sharing some time to chat during breaks in the action.

As I'm sure you can tell, I had fun in Omaha last week. Too bad the next Trials is four years away, but World Championship Trials comes next summer in Indianapolis! Hopefully I can make it to that event as well, but Indy will be hard-pressed to match the magic I witnessed for three days in Omaha. That weekend in Omaha will forever be special to me, and again thank you to everyone who I saw and talked to for taking the time. Now, on to London!

1 comment:

  1. I'm a former Olympic swimmer and I couldn't have written anything better! Great wrap up!