U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials at a packed Lucas Oil Stadium. Swimmers on deck ready to get on the starting blocks.

If This is U.S. Swimming Olympic Trials, What Will the Olympics Be Like?

Release Date: June 17, 2024

Category: Blog | Swimming

The first thing you notice about a finals night at the U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials is the noise. The type of cacophony that can only be produced by about 20,000 fans packed into half a football-stadium-turned-swimming-pool.

Then add a light show.

And pulsing music.

And you have an experience that is not just unlike any other sports experience, it’s so different that it enables incredible sports moments. Like the world record Gretchen Walsh set in the semifinals of the 100m butterfly on the first night. The semifinals! On Day 1! What else could be in store?!

I got to Trials on Day 2 (Sunday, June 16), driving to Indianapolis from Cleveland early in the morning, arriving partway through the morning session. Trials is a great opportunity to get in another test event before Paris, and it’s already paying off:

  • Heat training. It’s 84˚ F—feels like 88˚—at midnight. Today was nothing but sun, heat and humidity, and I spent a fair amount of time walking outside around all of the Trials-related activities while wearing a pretty heavy backpack. It was excellent practice.
  • Within a minute of getting out to the seating on the pool deck, I became obsessed with baskets (and towels)–you’ll have to listen to Monday’s episode to understand my latest favorite volunteer job I’d like to do.
  • Practice with mixed zones and press conferences, which are much different ways to get information than our long-form interviews.

The meet has two sessions per day. The morning session consists of heats for multiple events. It doesn’t have the massive spectacle of the evening session and is fun to watch. The semifinals for those heats are during the evening session; the finals are the following evening.

What do you do between the two sessions? Check out the Aqua Zone in the convention center, or walk along the fan area set up along a three-block area across the street.

The Aqua Zone has a bunch of activities—coloring, games, autograph sessions, a massive area Toyota set up for “try the sports,” including wheelchair basketball, speed skating slides (presided over by a cardboard cutout of TKFLASTANI Erin Jackson), sled hockey, curling, hand cycling, and more. It’s really cool, and I’m hoping there’s time to try a wheelchair basketball chair. Speedo has a giant goggle hall of fame-esque display, along with the option to purchase fully customizable goggles. The store is massive—all the major swim brands have displays, and there’s also Team USA merch.

The outdoor area has a lot of photo ops, including a 66-foot replica of the Eiffel Tower. There’s also a stage for daily concerts and food vendors. It’s all really impressive.

During the Sunday night session, I noticed that the magic behind this meet is its incredible amount of choreography and the sheer amount of stuff going on at any given second. I’m grateful I’ll be here for a few days to take it all in because there are so many precise moments that are really cool to see. Behind the scenes is somewhat chaotic because the warmup pools (another giant 50m pool, plus a 25m pool) are generally packed with swimmers warming up and cooling down. As their events come up, they move to a call area. Then the heat on deck moves to a smaller call area. Then they walk through a doorway/chute positioned under a massive 70-foot tall digital board that displays larger-than-life versions of each athlete as they’re announced.

Of course, I like to watch the officials, and the officials for this meet have very precise ways they enter and leave the deck area before and after a race. I’m trying to figure out everything they do, but if I focus on them, I’ll miss the swimming!

Speaking of the swimming, these athletes go so quickly that they almost seem slow. It can be difficult to gauge what top speeds really look like, which is kind of odd because with other sports, I’ve noticed how much more intense and impressive they are in person, when TV isn’t making them flatter. Perhaps it’s also because I’m watching from the starting end instead of a side view of the length of the pool. Still, the athletes are breathing pretty heavily at the end of the final, so they’re definitely pushing themselves.

For the winner of every final, it’s a trip to Paris. Sign your name on the giant board with the other Olympians, rise up from underneath the pool deck to get your medal, and then bask in the glow of the yellow lights surrounding the stadium and gleaming from the central scoreboard so brightly that the gold reflects in the water. A precursor for later this summer, perhaps.

–Jill Jaracz