Indianapolis Prepares For Olympic Swimming Trials At Lucas Oil Stadium (2024)

Recognizing the growing interest in the Olympic Trials, USA Swimming officials decided in 2019 to open up bidding for the event to bigger venues.

Around that time, lower bowl tickets to the 2020 Trials in Omaha, Nebraska, had nearly sold out in 20 minutes. Omaha had hosted the Trials in 2008, 2012 and 2016 and built s reputation as a swimming mecca, attracting large crowds to the 14,000-seat capacity CHI Health Center Arena.

Still, USA Swimming CEO and President Tim Hinchey thought the meet could be a perfect fit for an NFL stadium, providing access to even more fans and appealing to sponsors. This month, Hinchey’s vision will come to fruition, as the Trials will be held from June 15-23 at Lucas Oil Stadium, home of the Indianapolis Colts.

USA Swimming, the sport’s national governing body, also considered bids from Minneapolis and St. Louis, both of whom planned on hosting the Trials at their NFL stadiums. But Indianapolis won the bid in large part because the city had hosted numerous major sporting events, including multiple swimming Trials, albeit it in much smaller arenas.

For this year’s Trials, Lucas Oil Stadium will be configured for more than 30,000 fans. Officials hope to attract more than 20,000 for the first night of competition, which would be the largest crowd for a swim meet, topping the 2016 Olympics in Brazil, according to USA Swimming chief commercial officer Shana Ferguson.

“We knew that this event demanded more space from a commercial standpoint and really to broaden the reach of our sport, a sport that people unfortunately tend to pay attention to maybe once every four years if you're not a parent of an athlete,” Ferguson said.

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She added: “(Indianapolis) knows how to host big events. The city really knows how to come out for big events and was up for the challenge of taking on something nobody's ever done before.”

Indianapolis has long been a destination for major sports dating to the formation in 1979 of the Indiana Sports Corp., the first sports commission in the U.S. The city hosted the NCAA men’s basketball Final Four for the first time in 1980. Two years later, it hosted the National Sports Festival, a multi-sports event that the U.S. Olympic Committee formed to help athletes prepare for the Olympics. And in 1987, Indianapolis was home to the Pan American Games, a two-week event with nearly 4,500 athletes from 38 countries.

“That was our coming out party internationally,” said Patrick Talty, Indiana Sports Corp.’s President. “It was the biggest event that we had done. It showed that we could harness volunteers. It showed that we could have multiple venues going on. It showed our walkable campus. It showed how Indianapolis and Hoosier hospitality would put on these events and how we would raise the bar.”

Since then, the city has had dozens of major sporting events, including seven more NCAA men’s basketball Final Fours, three NCAA women’s basketball Final Four, the 2002 FIBA World Championship, the Super Bowl in 2012, the College Football Playoff national title game in 2022 and the NBA All-Star Weekend this year. The city will have the men’s Final Four again in 2026 and 2029 and the women’s Final Four in 2028.

Indianapolis has a history with swimming, too, dating back a century when the men’s 1924 Olympic Trials were held there. The city also hosted the swimming Trials in 1992, 1996 and 2000 at the Indiana University natatorium, which holds about 4,700 fans.

After the 2000 Trials, USA Swimming officials looked for a larger venue and decided to hold the 2004 Trials in Long Beach, Calif., where they constructed two temporary pools and placed them in a parking lot next to the Long Beach Arena.

Starting in 2008, Omaha hosted the next three swim Trials, breaking attendance records each time, including drawing nearly 200,000 total fans for the 2016 event. When Hinchey took over in 2017, USA Swimming officials began contemplating a bigger venue, although Omaha had won the bid before he arrived for the 2020 Trials, which ended up getting postponed until 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Scott Davison, President and CEO of Indianapolis-based OneAmerica Financial and a longtime swimming fan and coach, was among the group that helped convince Hinchey that Indianapolis could host the Trials in an NFL stadium. Davison was heavily involved when Indianapolis hosted the 2004 World Championships for swimming and was active with the Indiana Sports Corp., which works closely with the Capital Improvement Board (which operates Lucas Oil Stadium) and Visit Indy (the city’s tourism group).

“We all come together and say, ‘Hey, do we think this makes sense? Do we want to bid on something like this?,’” Talty said. “We all come to the table with what we want to put in. They are hand in hand with us the whole time on the stadium because you can’t put on a unique event such as this without the stadium being there from the very beginning. We ask them to invest and they do in these type of events.”

For the swimming Trials, Davison is serving as co-chair of the local organizing committee alongside Karin Sarratt, a OneAmerica executive vice president. Davison and Sarratt have spent the past two years preparing for the event. Numerous other local business leaders are involved, as well, including Maggie Lewis, CEO of the Boys and Girls Club of Indianapolis, and Doug Boles, President of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, home of the Indianapolis 500.

More than 3,000 volunteers will work during the Trials, according to Sarratt. They will be at the meet, which takes place for eight consecutive days and nine nights (17 sessions total), as well as at the USA Swimming Live presented by Purdue University, a free event with live music and food; the Toyota AquaZone, an indoor fan fest; and the USA Swimming House presented by OneAmerica, a hospitality area overlooking the two warmup pools at Lucas Oil Stadium.

As part of a longtime partnership with USA Swimming, OneAmerica will be involved with the Trials again in 2028, although the site of that event has not yet been determined.

“Our hope is that we knock their socks off and we deliver such an incredible experience that they’ll want to be back here,” Sarratt said. “If you think about the fan experience, we've been told and we have receipts to show that we put on these events like no other city does.”

For the past month, construction crews at Lucas Oil Stadium have worked around the clock setting up the main 50-meter competition pool and two warmup pools (one 25 meters and the other 50 meters) as well as the lighting, scoreboard and seating. Although the stadium’s capacity for NFL games is about 67,000, officials are going to have a large blue curtain at the 50-yard line for the Trials, separating the competition pool from the warmup area and reducing the capacity to about 30,000, which is still an unprecedented number of seats available for swimming.

This weekend, USA Swimming is holding Stadium Splash, a two-day meet at Lucas Oil Stadium for athletes who did not qualify for the Trials. The event will be closed to the public, but it will give officials an opportunity to make sure everything is set up correctly and working properly such as the plumbing because the stadium was not built to host a swimming event.

“It won’t be just right,” Ferguson said. “We’ll spend the next couple of days after that making adjustments.”

The Trials athletes are scheduled to arrive in Indianapolis next Tuesday and practice for the next four days before the meet starts on June 15. NBC will broadcast the meet each night through June 23 starting at 8:00, while Peaco*ck, NBC’s streaming service, will show the qualifying heats each morning starting at 11:00 through June 22.

For the athletes, the Trials provide a chance for them to reach their Olympic dreams and compete on the biggest stage many will ever experience. And for the event organizers and USA Swimming, the event culminates a years-long process to showcase the sport to a large in-person and television audience.

“This is what we live for,” Ferguson said. “This is what we're doing it for. Ultimately at the end of the day, certainly I want sponsors to be paying attention to us and to be interested, but really what I want is that six, seven or eight year old kid who watches the Olympic Trials and says, ‘That’s the sport I want to do.’ That's ultimately what we're looking for. We want more kids involved in the sport and we want more kids to learn how to swim, too.”

Indianapolis Prepares For Olympic Swimming Trials At Lucas Oil Stadium (2024)
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