Time to dive in: NCAA championships kick off March 27

Officials warn people to stay away from King County Aquatic Center this weekend

By CASEY OLSON, The Mirror

Some of the best swimmers in the world will make Federal Way their home for the next four days.

The 2008 NCAA Men’s Swimming and Diving Championships kick off March 27 at the Weyerhaeuser King County Aquatic Center. The event will feature the leading contenders for the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics, which will be held in China in August.

But Federal Way officials are cautioning people to stay away from the area of the King County Aquatic Center, on SW Campus Drive, as much as possible during the NCAA Championships.

Campus Drive is a busy arterial, said Cathy Schrock, support services manager for the Federal Way Police Department, in a news release. The volume of spectators arriving and leaving the venue is anticipated to create significant traffic issues, especially during the evening events on Thursday and Friday, that will coincide with the rush-hour commute hours, the release said.

The nationally-televised event includes close to 300 athletes, and organizers are expecting nearly 2,000 spectators daily from around the country.

“This championship event is a real benefit to Federal Way,” said Federal Way Mayor Jack Dovey. “Federal Way is poised and ready to welcome to our community the hundreds of athletes and thousands of spectators who will be coming to this exciting event.”

“There’s real buzz in the swim community,” says Skip Foster, chair of the NCAA Division I swimming and diving committee. “Outside the Olympics, this is the fastest and most exciting meet in the world.”

The 2008 men’s championships will also be a precursor to the U.S. Olympic Swim Trials, which will be held in Omaha, Neb., during the summer. At last year’s event, swimmers broke nine previously-held NCAA records.

The King County Aquatic Center is no stranger to hosting national and international swimming and diving events. The facility was built to accommodate the 1990 Goodwill Games swimming and diving events and can seat up to 2,500 spectators. Over 200 national and world records have been established in the pool.

As in other major meets, the NCAA Championship will have a positive economic impact locally and regionally as competitors and fans converge on Federal Way and the Seattle area.

The facility maintains one of the most active competition schedules in the country, hosting more than 50 events annually. It has been the site of Olympic Trials, top national and international competitions, and the Pacific Northwest’s premiere events. A recent economic study conducted for King County measured the financial impact of these events in excess of $7.5 million annually.

“The King County Aquatic Center is one of the nation’s top swimming and diving facilities, and is just one of only a handful in the country recognized as a world-class venue for international competitions,” said Mike Dunwiddie, aquatic center director.

Sports editor Casey Olson: 925-5565, sports@fedwaymirror.com