Family Moab

Family Moab
In Arches National Park

Thursday, June 20, 2024

Indy for Olympic Trials

The stadium lights went dark except for the red, white and blue spotlights on swivels and the overhead beams that laid a Escher pattern of the Xfiniti logo on the massive 50-meter pool. The bass of the hype music thundered through 20,000 audience members who leapt to their feet as the swimmers in the first final of the USA Swimming Olympic trails passed, one-by-one, under the 50-foot video screen of their images in competitive, focused stances.

The announcer's voice swelled as he intoned their credentials, "USA Tokyo Olympian, US American record holder, USA Tokyo Olympian..." and the crescendo of applause took on greater ferocity with each name. Up in the third tier, surrounded by families of swimmers who had also purchased multi-day tickets, we perched on the edge of our stadium seats, glancing between the pool far below and the 35,000 pound scoreboard that showed intimate, close up views of the athletes and their performances.

At the 50 meter mark. of the 100 fly, the leading swimmer, Gretchen Walsh, charged out to amazing first-half speed under world-record-pace. Even before the announcer mentioned this fact the swimming-savvy crowd had leapt to their feet, screaming for the swimmers to hold speed to the end, to get home. When Walsh touched, breaking an 8-year-old world record by a massive amount of three-tenths of a second, a massive wave of noise emanated from the stands. Non-swimmers in the crowd jumped to their feet along with the rest of us, high-fiving and howling for an amazing athletic accomplishment.

No world record has been set at US Olympic trials in swimming since 2008. The meet is a pressure cooker and only about 30% of qualifiers improve on their seed time. The goal is to make the top two in each event, though at this stage only the winner is guaranteed a spot on the Paris Olympic team. Those athletes who thrive in such settings are few and far between -- and they are incredible.  We got to see many such swimmers, including Regan Smith (who set a world record of her own the day after we left), Katie Ledecky, Katie Grimes (whose family sat next to us in the stands), Caeleb Dressel, Ryan Murphy, Lily King, and others.

As a lifelong swimmer I was moved to tears by the recognition of our sport in Indianapolis. The city raised banners on every street near Lucas Oil Stadium, drew swimming lane lines on the nearest big intersection and in the airport, and hosted concerts and festival-style markets near the venue. The first night set a world record for the number of people at a swim meet and succeeding nights have even raised that threshold. 

We saw 46-year-old Olympian from 2000 and 2004 swim to lifetime bests in her two events, and a 14-year-old make the final of the 400 IM. My family purchased souvenirs and explored the football stadium, waited in long lines for the escalator to take us up to our seats, and marveled that our sport generated this recognition. Aden and I caught up with swimmer friends of past and present, and trained one morning outdoors with the Indy Masters team.

A unique family vacation, an amazing chance to indulge my passions, a wonderful opportunity to cheer athletes on at the fastest Olympic Trials meet in history....all lead me to ask, when can I buy my tickets for 2028?

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