Mark Dodd was driving home from Omaha to Indianapolis four years ago when he got the call.
Something just wasn’t right with the flow and traffic pattern of competitors at the Mutual of Omaha Swimvitational. Dodd, president of Dodd Technologies Inc., turned around at the request of USA Swimming to come back and take a look.
By the time the Swimvitational resumed the next day, the arrangement had been re-set between the competition and warmup areas at the CenturyLink Center.
“What it did was it gave confidence to the clubs, coaches and athletes that if we saw a problem, by day two or day three it was fixed,” said Mike Unger, assistant executive director for USA Swimming. “It told them, ‘Holy, cow, these folks mean business.’ ”
People like Unger and Omaha Sports Commission President Harold Cliff will be watching similar things Friday through Sunday as the Swimvitational returns to the CenturyLink Center. The “test event” for the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials is just that for officials, workers and volunteers — as much as for the swimmers.
“From a logistical standpoint, this is really a great opportunity for our organizing committee to test everything,” Unger said. “If we were in a facility that has a pool 24 hours a day and 365 days a year, we maybe wouldn’t have to do this. But you want to make sure everything is in order in the building.
“But we also know what we have from last time.”
Omaha also was host to the Swimvitational before the U.S. Trials in 2008. Only some of the dynamics will change from four years ago when competition starts at 9 a.m. with preliminaries and 6 p.m. with the first batch of finals.
This meet will be three days instead of four and is not part of the Grand Prix series this time around. It also will lack some of the big-name punch of 2008 — Michael Phelps, Peter Vanderkaay, Katie Hoff, Kate Ziegler — when many swimmers wanted to test the pool and see the layout before the U.S. Trials.
The field of 700-plus competitors will be a mix of those coming back in two weeks for the U.S. Trials and those still looking for qualifying cuts, along with a number of foreigners and Midwest swimmers.
Cliff said that doesn’t diminish the fact that Omaha has to make it the best meet possible.
“Some of it will be kept at a very basic level, with no bells and whistles, but everything else needs to function,” Cliff said.
Four-time Olympian Amanda Beard returns to Omaha for the Swimvitational. Matt Grevers, a silver medalist in the 100-meter backstroke at the 2008 Summer Olympics, heads the men’s field. Many of Grevers’ top teammates from the Tucson Ford Dealers Aquatics team also will be competing.
“Some big teams are coming, just maybe not as many as last time,” Unger said. “Many people saw it last time and don’t need to come back, and that’s OK.”
In a change from 2008, Cliff said Arlene MacDonald will serve as competition manager for the Swimvitational, allowing Cliff to roam the building and observe. MacDonald, from Indianapolis, will fill the same role for the U.S. Trials.
Just about everything will be studied over the weekend.
“Anything we would do for the Trials, we want to test it now,” Unger said. “Because this is our opportunity to make changes and make corrections and maybe fix something that doesn’t work so well.”
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