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First impressions of the atmosphere at the 2024 US Olympic Trials

One of the most anticipated American swimming competitions of all time is in full swing, with day one preliminaries kicking off Saturday morning at Lucas Oil Stadium.

If there’s one thing USA Swimming has made clear to us, it’s how unprecedented these trials are, being in a football stadium and all. The organization, as well as the Indy Sports Corp, have also been instrumental in promoting the Olympic Trials as *the* premier sporting event of the summer in Indianapolis. There were posters throughout the Indianapolis International Airport promoting the competition and the swimmers, and every fifteen minutes there was an announcement on the PA speaker about trials – sometimes met with applause by airport visitors.

Downtown Indianapolis was also essentially transformed into a swimming hub, as the makeshift Eiffel Tower, concerts and other carnival-like pop-up stands dot Georgia Street. Walking down that street, I was also able to identify numerous individuals within the swimming community that had taken over that part of town and brought it to life. As I told SwimSwam Editor-in-Chief Braden Keith, the game was promoted as if the Pacers had made it to the NBA Finals.

But does the actual meeting live up to the hype?

In some ways, the meet feels just like a regular swim meet (although I think it’s fair to point out that my experience watching major swim meets is limited to U.S. citizens in 2023 at the IUPUI natatorium). There is still a competition pool and a warm-up pool, just like any other competition. The difference, however, is that the room around the pool is a lot bigger and that affects the viewing experience. First of all, the distance between the stands and the actual swimming pool is a lot greater than in a normal swimming pool, where the stands were almost right next to the pool. The distance also feels much greater than previous Olympic trials that took place at the CHI Health Center, which normally serves as a basketball arena.

Here’s a comparison between the 2024 and 2023 trial pools (photos courtesy of me):

What about the atmosphere? It’s clearly just the preliminaries, which gives the feeling that it’s going to be a more subdued version of what we’ll see in the finals. To no one’s surprise, the stands are not completely full. The stadium areas on the longer sides of the pool are quite full, but there is a very noticeable void in the stands on the shorter sides of the pool. Even though the media seating is on that side of the pool, I can admit that the view isn’t *perfect*, but you can still watch the races.

The energy of the crowd is comparable to that of US Nationals last year. There’s a burst of energy every time a heat ends, and sometimes the cheering lasts the entire race, like during heat five of the 100 butterfly ladies. And just like a regular meeting, there can also be long periods of silence, especially during some of the non-circle heats.

However, the biggest difference between this meeting and others is that when it gets loud, it is noisy. That turned out when big superstars like it Regan Smith And Gretchen Walsh swam, but it mainly occurred when Katie Ledecky, arguably the face of American swimming (especially for a mainstream audience), was in the water. When she finished dominating her 400 free heat, the cheering in the stadium was not only the loudest it had been all morning, but it was also the only time this session that I actually felt the sound echoing through Lucas Oil Stadium. This feels like a foreshadowing of the finals, where the stakes are higher, there are more superstars and there will likely be more people filling the stands. The production value will also likely be better during the finals, with USA Swimming doing this to engage the audience more (as they have done in previous competitions).

So I think the intensity of the stands for this meeting will reach that of, say, a college basketball game between two rival teams (though not many sporting events can match that kind of energy in general)? Probably not. But this prelims session showed how electric things can be during finals, and I’m excited about that. All things considered, USA Swimming is probably right: this meet is unprecedented, and it will be one for the history books.