Olympic Trials: Iowa City prepares for 'thousands' of tourists

BY SAM LOUWAGIE | APRIL 17, 2012 6:30 AM

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Wrestling Olympic trials attendance has slipped over the last decade.

The 2000 trials in Dallas set a national record with more than 9,400 tickets sold for a single session. In Indianapolis in 2004, that number fell to an average of 5,600 per session. The Las Vegas trials four years later saw the average drop below 4,000 per session.

Iowa City is set to change all that.

As of Monday, more than 11,500 all-session tickets had been sold for the trials, set to take place in Carver-Hawkeye Arena this weekend.

The Hawkeye wrestling program led the NCAA in attendance for the fifth-straight season this year, and national champion Penn State was the only team to draw half as many fans. Those fans made Iowa City an attractive place to revive enthusiasm for the trials.

Joshua Schamberger, the president of the Iowa City/Coralville Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, said many of the fans will come from outside Iowa City. As of last month, he said, nearly 70 percent of ticket-buyers were from outside the community.

Las Vegas, the last host of the trials, found the event had an $8million to $10 million economic impact on the city.

"I don't know if it will be that large, but it will be substantial," Schamberger said. "When you fill every hotel room in town and have thousands of visitors, there's going to be a benefit."

There is also going to be a crowded downtown. Nick Arnold, the executive director of the Downtown Association, said the portion of Washington Street that runs through downtown will be closed to road traffic from Friday to April 22. The street will host a festival in between wrestling sessions each day featuring live music and wrestling-related activities.

"Anytime you close a street down, it can be a slight inconvenience," Arnold said. "But there is going to be a lot of activities, and it's going to be a fun downtown area."

Pete Isais, the USA Wrestling director of national events, said in a statement that the organization is "extremely excited" about Iowa City's response to the upcoming trials. Former Iowa national champion Brent Metcalf said he's glad the nation's top wrestlers will get to "see what we get spoiled with here."

Hawkeye associate head coach Terry Brands said the event taking place in Iowa City benefits the entire sport.

"It's an advantage to the sport of wrestling because of the fanbase and passion we bring," he said. "It's centrally located, it's a hotbed of wrestling. You're bringing the Red, White, and Blue here."

Follow DI wrestling reporter Sam Louwagie on Twitter.

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