A rich wrestling tradition and fervent following of the sport helped Iowa City win the bid for the nation’s most prestigious tournament Tuesday.
The 2012 Olympic Trials are coming to town.
Officials from USA Wrestling and the United States Olympic Committee selected Iowa City over Council Bluffs and Columbus, Ohio. The two-day event is scheduled to begin April 21, 2012, inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
“It’s huge on a lot of levels,” said Josh Schamberger, president of the Iowa City/Coralville Area Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, which helped submit the area’s bid for the event.
Schamberger says the economic impact will be “significant,” although perhaps not as high as some estimates of $8 million to $10 million. But he said he believes “every hotel room in the Corridor will be full during these trials, and that equates into thousands of visitors and millions of local dollars spent.”
Iowa City constructed its bid around the massive following of an Iowa program that led college wrestling in attendance the past four seasons, more than doubling every other team in the country at the box office.
“It’s one of the breadbaskets of our sport,” USA Wrestling executive director Rich Bender said. “The history and the tradition that goes with that facility and that state is something we put in very high regard. You can’t ignore the success the University of Iowa has had with drawing spectators and fans to wrestling events.”
Bender said “proven attendance” was a big factor in the decision to bring the Olympic Trials to Iowa City for the first time. Attendance slipped at the event in recent years after record crowds showed up in 2000 in Dallas, where a six-session total of more than 50,000 came through the gates.
The six-session figure dropped to 33,500 in 2004 in Indianapolis and slid to 22,650 in Las Vegas in 2008.
“We’re not naïve enough to think that just because we’re hosting a wrestling event at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, at the University of Iowa, that there’s going to be 15,000 people show up (per session),” Bender said. “A number of those fans who regularly attend those events have direct affinity to the University of Iowa and specifically to that wrestling program, but we think there’s a very high probability we can create that affinity that we need to create with that spectator base to draw them in for our most important property, and that’s the Olympic Trials.”
Bender said USA Wrestling felt it was important to take advantage of “a strong, local wrestling community that could be the foundation for the support of the event.”
Iowa pulled in 8,125 fans on average for home duals last season when it claimed its third consecutive NCAA title. Its best crowd last year (a paid attendance of 10,967 against Oklahoma State) was more than Ohio State drew (10,934) for its entire six-dual home schedule.
“I’ve been so many places around the world, and there’s nothing like Carver-Hawkeye Arena,” said 2008 Olympian Mike Zadick, a three-time All-American for the Hawkeyes. “There’s nothing like it. Not even remotely close.
“I remember dual meets (at Iowa) that were more exciting than international competition. Now you step into a gym in the middle of Iran, they’re starting to compete with Carver. I’m going to be biased, but their national sport over there is wrestling, and they live, die and breathe it over there. You see there how important it is to them, but that’s kind of the same thing we have here with the richness in Iowa City as far as how we treat the sport of wrestling.”
Tuesday marked the culmination of a vision hatched in 2008. Iowa coach Tom Brands and Cornell College coach Mike Duroe talked about bringing the event to Iowa City as they walked out of the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas.
“We both said we’ve got to get this event in Iowa City, Iowa,” Duroe said. “We had a couple (Iowa) guys make the team in Zadick and (Doug) Schwab, and we realized how much sweeter it would’ve been having a couple guys make the Olympic team and having it be right in our own backyard.”
Duroe and Brands were part of group that presented a case for Iowa City last week to officials in Colorado Springs. The Iowa City delegation also included legendary former Iowa coach Dan Gable, 2000 Olympic bronze medalist Lincoln McIlravy, Schamberger, Iowa City Mayor Matt Hayek and Iowa assistant athletics director Les Steenlage.
“That team is top notch,” Brands said. “It was a slam dunk if we communicated. We communicated. Good for the team. Good for Iowa City. Now we’ve got to do our part, from my perspective. It’s the location of the trials, it’s great that it’s here, and our part is to put guys on the team.”