Two Years Out from Trials: How Do Indianapolis and Omaha Stack Up?

Wednesday marks two years until the start of the 2024 U.S. Olympic Trials, and for the first time since 2004, the meet will not be held in Omaha, Nebraska.

But that doesn’t mean the new location will be exactly “new” or “novel” to the sport of swimming. The Olympic Swimming Trials have been hosted in Indianapolis six times: 1924, 1952 (women’s meet), 1984, 1992, 1996, and 2000. That is in addition to numerous NCAA Championship meets, a World Junior Championships meet, the 2004 World Short Course Swimming Championships, and many, many other high-level local, national, and international caliber competitions.

Indianapolis has basically become the hometown of swimming in the United States in a number of ways, whereas Omaha felt more like ‘a summer vacation.’

But that doesn’t mean that the 2024 Olympic Trials will be the same as every other meet that has been hosted in Indianapolis. With organizers hoping for 30,000+ spectators for each of 9 days of competition, the scale of this event is unlike anything the city’s robust swimming scene has faced before.

Let’s compare and contrast Indianapolis to Omaha across a number of different metrics so that attendees can get a sense of how the 2024 Trials might feel compared to the last four meets in Omaha.

Under the Dome

The 2024 US Olympic Swimming Trials will take place at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. Primarily the home of the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts, the stadium is huge, even compared to the 18,000 seat CHI Health Center in Omaha.

While USA Swimming plans to use temporary bleachers to scale down the 70,000 seat Lucas Oil Stadium, it still won’t be just a “25% bigger” CenturyLink Center. That’s because Lucas Oil Stadium has 6 levels of seating. This means that people in the top level will be more than 200 vertical feet from the pool – that’s like stacking a 50 meter pool on its end and going straight up!

The CHI Health Center in Omaha, by comparison, has only two levels of seating.

Besides the spectator view (we don’t expect that USA Swimming will actually use all 6 levels in Indianapolis), the height could impact backstrokers’ ability to use the ceiling as a guide to stay straight, and could create a generally more cavernous feeling. That might damper some of the most exciting moments if the sound escapes into the upper atmosphere, but maybe not.

Lucas Oil Stadium actually has a retractable roof. We don’t expect that it will be used during Trials, but it would be really cool if it was.

Weather

If you’ve been to the Olympic Trials in Omaha, you know that no matter what the forecasts or historical averages say, the swim meet always falls during the hottest week of the summer. Last year, temperatures peaked somewhere around 105 degrees outside during the meet.

Historically, Indianapolis is a few degrees cooler than Omaha in June.

  • Indianapolis June Temperature Averages: High 81/Low 61 F
  • Omaha June Temperature Averages: High 84/Low 62 F

On June 15, the historical average high temperature in Indianapolis is about 80 degrees.

Humidity in Indianapolis that time of year is a little higher on average, though: according to Weather Spark, Indianapolis is ‘muggy’ on June 15 about 38% of the time, which is higher than Omaha at about 34% of the time.

But it has never been hotter than 104 in Indianapolis in June. It has in Omaha, once: June 17, 2021. Right in the middle of the US Olympic Trials.

On totality, the weather is about a wash: a temperate midwestern June with a chance of a heatwave.

Population

As of the 2020 census, Omaha had about 480,000 residents, while Indy had about 870,000 residents. That size can go a long way in terms of general support infrastructure, restaurants, hotel rooms, and many other metrics we’ll discuss later. Indianapolis‘ Metro population (2.1 million) is about twice as big as Omaha‘s as well (1.1 million), and while this includes lots of suburbs and other places that are less convenient to the pool, that metro population drives a lot of the services that are in the cities themselves – which is, for example, a big part of why Indianapolis has NFL and NBA teams and Omaha does not.

Both cities are growing at similar rates – just under 1%.

Hotel Rooms

This is where Indianapolis is going to shine as compared to Omaha, where finding affordable lodging was a struggle during Trials (and especially the overlap with the College World Series). Downtown Indianapolis alone has over 8,500 hotel rooms, with several more new hotels planned to be opened in the next half-decade (though many won’t be done in time for Trials).

Indianapolis, home city of the NCAA, is an events-driven city, and they are equipped for this kind of influx of people. The city has hosted the NCAA men’s basketball Final Four tournaments 8 times (and are scheduled to do so again in 2026).

The Indiana Convention Center, which is connected to Lucas Oil Stadium, has 12 connected hotels.

As markets shift to more people staying in Airbnbs or similar home-rental services, these make up a bigger percentage of the housing inventory – current data shows about 2,500Airbnb listings in Indianapolis, as compared to just 1,000 in Omaha.

Douglas County, home of Omaha, has “nearly 10,000 hotel rooms” according to the Omaha Convention and Visitors Bureau. Marion County, Indiana has somewhere north of 23,000 hotel rooms. These numbers are shifting and changing based on hotels being constructed or removed, but it’s clear that Indianapolis is overall much better equipped to handle the influx of visitors.

Airports

The Omaha airport is fine, it serves the needs of the city well. But Indianapolis‘ airport has been named the best in North America by the Airports Council International for 10 consecutive years in the category for between 5 million to 15 million passengers annually.

While Chicago’s O’Hare airport will still be a hub for a lot of visitors en route to Indianapolis (Chicago-Indianapolis flights are both airports’ most frequent), many more people will be able to fly direct.

Does that mean you’re less likely to sit next to Lilly King on your way home from Trials (like I did in 2021)? Yes. But overall, the pain of flying to Indianapolis will be less, on average, than Omaha.

The only cities that fly direct to Omaha but not Indianapolis are Fort Myers (seasonally), Salt Lake City, and St. Louis.

Data Comparison between airports:

Indy Omaha
Passengers 7.1 million 3.7 million
Runways 3 3
Cities with Direct Flights 44 31
Airlines 11 7
Gates 33 28
Daily Departures 300 88

Time Zone

While Omaha is in US Central Time, Indianapolis is in US Eastern Time. Remember that by 2024, the expectation is that the United States will be in permanent daylight savings time.

USA Swimming has shown a strong preference to host this meet in the central United States in order to spread the pain of travel from both coasts. Athletes from the west coast, however, will have 3 hours of jetlag to work out upon arrival. We also have to remember that the Olympic Trials have historically been shown on prime time network television – we don’t know what that schedule for 2024 looks like yet, but this could mean that finals sessions will start an hour later to accommodate TV time slots.

Restaurants

Tripadvisor lists 1,890 restaurants in Indianapolis, as compared to 1,170 restaurants in Omaha. We will for sure miss The Old Market area in Omaha (the Weber Grill doesn’t have the same vibe), but both cities have similar cuisines and general quality of restaurants. The cuisines are centered around midwestern meat and potatoes, but both are seeing increasing diversity in their restaurants as with their populations.

We’ll help you find the best spots in Indianapolis as the meet gets closer, but on average, this is probably a wash. Traditionists have no fear: both facilities are within a 5 minute walk of an Old Spaghetti Factory.

Public Transit

Neither city has great public transit. Indianapolis is working on opening new bus express lanes this year, which at least will make it a little easier to get into town for people who want to stay further from downtown.

The one place where Indianapolis really differentiates itself is bike and scooters. Omaha added ‘public rent’ scooters for 2024, but there weren’t enough of them, and there wasn’t a lot of dedicated road space to ride them in. Downtown Indianapolis, which also has electric scooters, has a lot more dedicated bike lane space, and what;s more, those lanes are more often separated from car traffic and feel much safer.

Plus, there were a ton of areas in Omaha where the scooters didn’t work.

Omaha in 2021 saw a dramatic shortage of Uber drivers, especially during the CWS/Trials overlap, and with a lack of public transportation or scooter/bike options, that often left people stranded for how to get home. The scooters should at least alleviate some of that strain in Indianapolis (though at least one scooter company, Spin, recently pulled out of the city).

Conclusion

“Better” is always subjective. Some people will miss the ‘revolve-around-the-meet’ vibe in Indianapolis and the confluence with the College World Series.

But from a pure ease-of-attendance perspective, the metrics all favor Indianapolis. The city is bigger, and even beyond that, is better-build and better-equipped to hold large scale events.

There are going to be things that we will all miss about Omaha, and of the sittings being considered for a replacement, we can quibble over which was best. But it seems clear that the meet had outgrown Omaha and was ready to move to a bigger city.

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Teamwiess
3 months ago

I enjoyed myself in Omaha over the past few trials but was tired of going there. Both cities are / will be great hosts but I am thankful that trials will be somewhere new in 24. If trials were held in Indy for multiple iterations, I would be tired of going there.

Swimaggie
3 months ago

ill take Omaha’s hotel situation over Indy anytime. Indys hotels know they can rake and do (and most rates are arranged in advance for the big convention so you can bet that $10 of each night is going into USA swims pockets). Plus the lodging taxes are far worse in Indianapolis. Bonus is Indy connects five different interstates.

SuperSwimmer 2000
3 months ago

Omaha was great — beyond my expectations. I think the city of Indy will be better, and it’s good to be on a bigger stage, but … I think that stadium is too big and the viewing angles too flat from the lower levels. It’s too bad they couldn’t have put it in a more viewer-friendly venue, but we will see how it goes.

Swimaggie
Reply to  SuperSwimmer 2000
3 months ago

When you have zero expectations, it’s easy to do

thezwimmer
3 months ago

For those departing IND after the meet, the security checkpoints are the swiftest I’ve ever been to. Granted I have never visited Omaha, but my longest experience in security lines at IND was 30 minutes on a day shortly before Christmas 2021. Compare that to other major hubs like Newark, Denver, Chicago(s), and Atlanta where I’ve waited up to 90 minutes.

Georgia Rambler
3 months ago

Maybe a little too big? Seems like binoculars might be in order. Yet there is always the excitemenbt of attending in person even if you can see the the races better on TV.
Have been to Indy for the 500 and some folks might not know that there are many campgrounds around the Brickyard which would likely be avalable during the trials.

DMSWIM
3 months ago

The lack of a direct flight from St. Louis to Indy isn’t much of a loss as Indy is easily within driving distance of St. Louis.

IU Swammer
3 months ago

Indianapolis is designed for hosting sporting events and conventions–literally. For the last 30 years, it’s been one of the main focuses of city leadership, and the entire south side of downtown centers venues, hotels, and restaurants in walking distance. On just a few months’ notice, the city hosted the entire 2021 NCAA basketball tournament.

To me, the biggest question mark is the size of Lucas Oil. I hope it works.

Meathead
3 months ago

Where’s the coverage for night life? best place for thirsty Thursday? Don’t hold back on us

Coach Tom
Reply to  Meathead
3 months ago

Many will tell you that you have to go to St. Elmo’s but I think Tony’s is actually better.

Swimaggie
Reply to  Coach Tom
3 months ago

forgot another underrated aspect of Omaha. Steaks were awesome and a fraction of what you’d pay in Chicago. There was also a bar that had champagne on tap.

About Braden Keith

Braden Keith

Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder/co-owner of SwimSwam.com. He first got his feet wet by building The Swimmers' Circle beginning in January 2010, and now comes to SwimSwam to use that experience and help build a new leader in the sport of swimming. Aside from his life on the InterWet, …

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