The Big Home Run in Omaha


By John Leonard | Posted: July 10, 2008

You have heard, and will hear, a lot about the Omaha USA Swimming Olympic Trials that were held last week. Deservedly so. Lets hand out some big congratulations right now.

Omaha is no longer “just a baseball town.” Its a swimming mecca. The town embraced the sport like nothing I can remember. Everywhere you went the man and woman on the street were totally in tune with the event. Including the guy in the quick stop that I hit every morning for my 5 AM Diet Coke….he asked me about the meet every day.

The vision came from USA Swimming’s Executive Director Chuck Wielgus. The best “number two man” in the world, Mike Unger, enacted that vision, in cooperation with H2Omaha’s great director, Harold Cliff. Harold’s on-site leadership and direction caught just about every possible detail from the near perfect seating, to a fabulous warmup pool, to perfect “hosting” capabilities.

The production of the meet was head and shoulders above any other swim meet I have ever attended anywhere in the world, including every Olympic Games and World Championships. If FINA wanted to see what swimming “can be,” they needed to be in Omaha. Sadly, they were not there, except for potential future FINA President Julio Maglione from Uruguay, for one day.

The swimmers were remarkably fast, and letter-perfect in their media and crowd responses. Whether they triumphed like Katie and Michael, or suffered the fate of now four time 3rd place winner Hayley McGregory, they were fantastic with the fans, especially the children and portrayed our sport exactly as we all would wish it to be shown…..class people performing as elite athletes.

The hotels were close, very nice, convenient and did I mention close?

The restaurants were varied, close, very nice and did I mention close?

The crowd was animated, excited, and due to a great venue, close to the action.

The warmup pool was huge, complete, and did I mention, close? (and convenient for the athletes and coaches.)

The city’s swim coaches, led by Docker Hartfield and Doug Krecklow of SwimOmaha, opened their practices to visiting swimmers from ages 8 to 48 and they came to practice by the dozens each day. Young swimmers could stay in shape while visiting for the Trials. Thanks guys.

Much more will be said, and deserves to be. In the baseball city, this was a huge Home Run. Hit by Chuck Wielgus, Mike Unger and Harold Cliff. (and their staffs and sponsors…….)

Congratulations guys…….I left Long Beach 4 years ago saying “can’t top this.” I left Omaha thinking (but not saying) the same thing.

I know they will “make a way” to do so in four years.

Thanks for the memories, Chuck, Mike, Harold and the City of Omaha!

(yes, we would love to come back in four years!)

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