COLUMBIA — The Columbia Swim Club has a plan for filling the void left by the departure of the Missouri Grand Prix, and the Columbia Convention and Visitors Bureau decided Monday to pitch in and help.
The Grand Prix, a high-profile swim meet that debuted at the MU Student Recreation Complex in February 2007 and attracted Michael Phelps and other top American swimmers, came to an end in 2012 after its contract with USA Swimming ran its course. USA Swimming has replaced the meet with an event to be held in Orlando, Fla.
Some of the board members on the Convention and Visitors Bureau Advisory Board run hotels that would be affected by people not coming to town this February for the Grand Prix meet. Others worried about the lack of tourist dollars coming into the city during that month.
But the Columbia Swim Club's membership has enjoyed a bump, from 170 swimmers to 220, since the Summer Olympics. It wants to capitalize on that interest and avoid a February lull in the local swimming scene.
“Our swim club has grown with the recent Olympics, and as a club we have decided that we’re going to add a new swim meet in February,” Lisa Hanks, who handles fundraising for the swim club, told the board on Monday.
Hanks asked on the behalf of the swim club that the visitors bureau donate $14,000 to the event from its Sports Development Fund. The swim meet, which is scheduled for Feb. 1-2, would serve as a qualifying event for swimmers from USA Swimming's Central Zone who want to advance to higher-level competitions. The Central Zone comprises Missouri and 13 states that either border Missouri or lie north of it.
“We’re hoping to get 1,000 swimmers or 1,000 people coming in from out of town to swim in the Mizzou pool,” Hanks said, adding that the eventual goal is to make the 2016 meet an Olympic trial qualifier.
“There are not a lot of Olympic trial qualifier meets at that time, and our hope is at that point that it’ll be not just our Missouri regional area, but anyone in the Central Zone.”
Getting Olympic-bound swimmers to come to MU’s pool shouldn’t be a problem, Hanks said. Phelps swam in the pool in February 2007 and 2008. In 2007, after breaking the world record for the 200-meter butterfly in 2007, Phelps described the pool as "fast." That means professionals will want a piece of the action.
“If they swim in a pool and they call it ‘fast,’ that gives your pool a reputation,” Hanks said.
The board chose to give the club $7,500 for the event. The money will help it cover the cost of pool rental, MU parking, awards, official costs, sanctioning fees, marketing materials and office printing.
Some board members said $14,000 was a little too much to ask for.
“My hotel will benefit directly from the event so I’m very ‘pro’ the event," Susan Bell, general manager of the Hampton Inn and Suites, said after Hanks made her pitch. "And the Missouri Grand Prix was a great event that has gone away, so it’s a very big hole to fill. But, I think $14,000 is a little heavy of a request.”
Hanks said the club will continue planning for the meet and working toward its goal of hosting an Olympics trial qualifier in 2016.
"We're not too worried," said Columbia Swim Club's head coach Phil Garverick. "Just like anything we do, the first year might be a little small. Our goal is to build up over the next four years. We're doing this ahead of the curve so that by the time this gets really big in 2016, we'll have it under control."
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