Mesa’s own Olympic champion Breeja Larson will return to her hometown to compete at the Mesa Swimming Grand Prix, this Thursday through Saturday at the Skyline Aquatic Center.
But the Mountain View High School alum isn’t the only American gold medalist to compete — Ryan Lochte, Missy Franklin, Matt Grevers and Nathan Adrian are also expected to make a splash later this week.
“It’s the swimming equivalent to seeing the Diamondbacks or the Suns,” said Erin Shields, the team manager for Mesa Aquatics and Mesa Swimming Grand Prix meet director. “It’s the best of the best and it’s a great deal for swim fans.”
This year is the first year of a four year deal to host the Arena Grand Prix at Skyline, Shields said.
“This really is going to be something that all of the East Valley can be excited about,” she said.
In addition to seeing major swimmers in the interim between Summer Olympics, spectators will get a chance to see the up-and-coming stars, Shields said. Half of the U.S. Olympic team is expected to swim at the meet.
“There may be kids who maybe have one or two cuts, but in four years they could be (headed to the Olympics),” she said.
The opportunity the watch this caliber of swimming hasn’t been available in the Valley since the mid-1990s when the Phoenix Aquatics Club hosted the Grand Prix, Shields said.
“I think the greatest part is it’s going to be, in addition to the economic impact, to let kids and families see this kind of swimming,” Shields said. “This is the kind of event that’s going to attract your faster athletes.”
Getting local families to the Grand Prix can do more than inspire the next generation of swimmers, said Marc Heirshberg, the City of Mesa’s director of parks, recreation and commercial facilities.
“Hopefully these big names will also draw local residents to see the facilities,” he said.
The aquatic center was paid for jointly by the city and Mesa Public Schools.
“A week ago you may have had little kids learning how to swim and now there are going to be world class athletes,” he said.
It’s a project that both benefits residents directly with quality swimming facilities and indirectly with an economic impact, Heirshberg said.
The direct economic impact of the meet is expected at $300,000, he said.
“There are 300 swimmers and most of them are from out-of-town,” he said. “That means the economic impact stretches beyond just the swimming pool.”
Since most will be here through the weekend, he said, that means food, rental cars, hotels and entertainment.
“And most will bring other people with them as well,” Heirshberg said.
Universal Sports Network will broadcast the event Thursday and Friday 6 to 7:30 p.m.
The Arena Grand Prix is a series of six meets throughout the first half of the year. Following this week’s meet in Mesa, the remaining two will be in Charlotte, N.C., in May and Santa Clara, Calif., in May and June.
Swimmers are competing for $25,000 of a $150,000 purse, and first-place finishers of this meet can win $500 per event. Currently, Lochte and Franklin lead the series. According to USA Swimming, athletes wishing to maintain athletic eligbility at the college level — like Larson, a junior at Texas A&M, and Franklin, who just completed her final high school season — cannot accept prize money.
Athletes are using the Grand Prix to prepare for the 2013 Phillips 66 National Championships in Indianapolis in June, the World University Games in Kazan, Russia in July or the FINA World Championships in Barcelona, Spain at the end of July and early August, Shields said.
Since opening the $8.4 million facility in April 2011, the center has hosted primarily high school competitions, meets and state championships and has shaded seating for 1,200 spectators.
Last year, the center hosted the U.S. Synchronized Swimming team trials for the Olympic team that traveled to London, Heirshberg said.
What: USA Swimming Mesa Arena Grand Prix
Where: Skyline Aquatic Center — 845 S. Crismon Rd., Mesa.
When: Thursday — Saturday
Tickets: $5 (prelims), $10 (finals); Children under 8 free
More information: evtnow.com/5cs
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