From left: Christine Magnuson, Jessica Hardy, Dara Torres and Kara Lynn… (Mark Humphrey / Associated…)
OMAHA — Even as the Olympic swimming trials blossom into a major national sporting event, USA Swimming has not ruled out a return to Long Beach.
Long Beach was one of 16 cities represented at a recent informational meeting for potential bidders for the 2016 trials. Bids will be solicited this fall, and USA Swimming hopes to announce the winning city next May.
The trials were held in Long Beach in 2004, at a temporary outdoor pool with the Queen Mary as a backdrop. The event then moved to Omaha, with a temporary pool on the floor of an indoor sports arena, and with room for 14,000 spectators.
"I think 12,000 to 15,000 is the right number," said Chuck Wielgus, executive director for USA Swimming.
The average attendance at this year's trials: 9,468 for morning sessions and 12,289 for evening sessions.
The Long Beach venue held 10,000 but could expand accordingly, he said. He called the 2004 trials "a spectacular event from every perspective" and said there would be natural advantages to returning to the area.
"Southern California is to swimming what Long Island and Baltimore are to lacrosse. It's a hotbed," Wielgus said. "We wouldn't have to worry about ticket sales, energy or enthusiasm. It would be an educated audience."
On the other hand, the embrace of a mid-size market such as Omaha could be tough to beat.
"For a week, it's an Olympic city," Wielgus said. "The argument against L.A. is the argument against a place like New York. We don't want the event to get lost in the city. We want to be on the front page of the sports section."
The best bid, of course, is largely about money. Rich Foster, president of the Long Beach Sports Council, said community leaders would love to lure the trials but would wait to see the financial terms to which bidders would be subject before deciding whether to proceed. Foster said Long Beach did send a representative to this year's trials.
"In 2004, we were really working with hard-core swimming people," Wielgus said. "The challenge for them would be a higher level of engagement in the business community."
USA Swimming would not consider Staples Center, the Honda Center or any arena with NBA or NHL tenants because of possible conflicts with playoff dates, Wielgus said. USA Swimming needs access to the venue for about a month before the trials for preparation and a test event, he said.
San Francisco Bay Area representatives also attended the informational meeting. The proposed Bay Area venue is unclear.
Jessica Hardy of Long Beach won the women's 50 freestyle Monday. She previously won the 100 free — after failing to make the Olympic team in the 100 breaststroke, the event she considered her strongest and the one she won at the 2008 Olympic trials.
"I thought I was going to be a better breaststroker for sure," said Hardy, 25. "I couldn't have predicted it. I'm surprised, and I'm really stoked."
Dara Torres, 45, announced her retirement after finishing fourth. The five-time Olympian won the event at the 2000 trials — in 24.90 seconds. Her time Monday: 24.82 seconds.
"You have to look at this realistically," Torres said. "As much as I wanted to win, and as much as I wanted to make the team, that's pretty good for a 45-year-old. I'm competing against girls half my age."