As the realities of a postponed Olympic and Paralympic Games set in for cities across the country, the unknown of what happens to remaining U.S. Olympic Trials events is causing a juggling act for sports commissions, CVBs and local organizing committees.
“Everything drafts off the Olympics—every Olympic sport—and not only in the year of the Olympic Games but every year,” said Kari Westlund, president and CEO of Travel Lane County in Eugene, Oregon, one of the cities with the most to sort out in coming weeks. “The whole calendar fits around the Olympic Games so there will be a lot of decision points over the next few days.”
For national governing bodies in track and field, swimming and gymnastics that had yet to hold their final qualifying events—and for the cities that were set to host—there remains much unknown about the status of their events. That goes for the Paralympic movement as well; in Minneapolis, the city was set to host a combined trials in swimming, cycling and track and field in June.
“You think of all the different trials scheduled to take place and that’s a lot of pieces to move around for sure,” said Matt Meunier, director of Sports Minneapolis. “We are not alone in this challenging time. There are other communities going through exactly what we’re going through.”
TrackTown Works Out Logistics
In Eugene, city leaders are not only dealing with the unknown of the Track and Field Trials, which were scheduled for June 21–28 at the newly renovated Hayward Field. That event was to be the first held in the rebuilt stadium. Added to that complexity is that the venue is also scheduled to host the 2021 World Athletics Championships, scheduled for August 6–15, possibly over the potential new dates of the Tokyo Games.
In a statement, World Athletics said it has begun the process of determining the next steps for that event, which could involve pushing the 2021 championships into 2022. Next year’s event was to be the first time the event has been held in the United States.
“World Athletics stands ready to work with the IOC and all sport on an alternative date for the Olympic Games in 2021 and has already been in discussion with the Organizing Committee of the World Athletics Championships Oregon 21 regarding the possibility of moving the dates of this highly popular worldwide event,” the federation said. “They have reassured us that they will work with all of their partners and stakeholders to ensure that Oregon is able to host the World Athletics Championships on alternative dates, including dates in 2022.”
As for the trials in June, TrackTown USA, the local organizing committee, issued a statement saying it is working with USA Track & Field and the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee on rescheduled dates, as well as policies and procedures for those who bought tickets to the 2020 event. The rescheduling will have obvious impacts on Eugene and any other events that may already be scheduled over the new dates that get picked.
“The decision by the Olympics was step one so now we need to do some scanning to see if there are times when we really could not host these events,” said Westlund, whose organization is helping with housing blocks for the trials and world championships. “As the (destination marketing organization) we’re going to turn ourselves inside out to make sure things turn out right in the end. We’re super sad to lose the prospect of the trials in June.”
Omaha Aims to Keep Swimming Trials
In Omaha, the impact from recent canceled sports events has been significant. The city had been scheduled to host a round of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championships and is a regular host of the NCAA College World Series. Both events were lost to the NCAA’s decision to cancel its winter and spring championships.
But the Olympic Swimming Trials have been a source of pride for years. USA Swimming began hosting the trials in the city’s downtown arena in 2008 and has been back every four years since. This year’s event, scheduled for June 21–28, saw ticket sales pacing at 200,000 and the event was set to be a record-breaker. The 2016 trials generated more than 23,000 room nights.
In a statement, USA Swimming said it is evaluating the next step. “We will work with our athletes, coaches, teams and committees to shift our preparations, and schedule a calendar of events that properly readies our team for 2021,” the national governing body said. “We will work closely with the USOPC on rescheduling the U.S. Olympic Team Trials—Swimming to best align with Olympic Games preparations as further details become known.”
Josh Todd, president and executive director of the Omaha Sports Commission, said the next step will be to see what dates the IOC sets for the Games in 2021. “We are already diligently working with all our partners and our central focus is making sure the Swimming Trials stay in Omaha in 2021,” he said. “We believe we can still accommodate it here and make it happen. There will be a lot more clarity in the coming weeks once we have new date windows.”
Minneapolis Waits and Sees
Paralympic events are also seeing an impact. For the second consecutive cycle, the U.S. Paralympic Team Trials were to see athletes in swimming, cycling, and track and field compete in one city to qualify for Team USA. In 2016, that event was staged in Charlotte, North Carolina. The 2020 event was scheduled for June 25–28 in Minneapolis but will be postponed in light of the delay in the Paralympic Games.
U.S. Paralympics said it would share details on the rescheduling “as soon as it is available.” But Meunier said the city had gained significant momentum to date. More than 600 volunteers were recruited for the event, which was to be held at three venues across the city for more than 400 athletes. “We were just three months away so we were really starting to get pretty deep into the planning stages,” he said.
Swimming events were to be staged at the University of Minnesota’s aquatics center. Track and field was to be held at a high school about 10 miles west of downtown. And cycling was to be held along the Mississippi River, the easiest of the events to be rescheduled since it mainly involves road closures, he said.
Unknown, of course, is what the new dates of the Paralympic Games will be and what impact that will have on the city’s ability to keep the trials. “The university aquatic center is a high-occupancy facility so we want to move quickly on that if we can,” Meunier said. “For the high school, hopefully we could work with June dates.” Other venues in the city may be an option as well depending on the dates, he said.
Like Omaha, Minneapolis also took a big hit with the cancellation of the NCAA postseason. The city’s U.S. Bank Stadium had been scheduled to host the Division I Wrestling Championships, the first time the event was to be held in a football stadium. The event was expected to shatter attendance records.
While the city has recently hosted showcase events such as the NCAA Final Four and the Super Bowl, Meunier said the Paralympic Team Trials were going to be as high-profile an event as the city had hosted in recent years.
“Any time an athlete is playing to represent our country, that’s a pretty unique experience and opportunity so we’re very excited to be part of it,” he said. “For us it’s a unique experience. We’ve been fortunate to work with a lot of NGB events like USA Volleyball and USA Fencing and those events are fantastic. This event is a world stage that it leads to. Hopefully we can get things rescheduled in a timely and efficient manner. But we’ll be patient and see the process through.”