The Best Least-Recognised Pools in the World

By Jane

David Cromwell over at TimedFinals recently put together Top 5 Tuesday on the best swimming venues in the United States. He covered the virtues of the aquatic centers at Fort Lauderdale, Seattle (David! The pool is in Federal Way! That’s like saying Newark is in Manhattan!), Minneapolis, Texas at Austin and Indianapolis. I’ve swum in three of the five and they are fantastic venues. “Seattle” hosted my first Pac 10 Championships, where I placed seventh in the 200 yard breaststroke. Minneapolis saw me qualify for NCAAs in the same event. I swam in my first U.S. Senior Nationals at Indianapolis whilst suffering from whooping cough. I was unaware of this at the time, since I’d been misdiagnosed as having asthma. But I digress…

I wanted to pay some attention to some of the world’s less well-known swimming complexes that are pretty special. The pools that you loved swimming at, not because of their incredible records, impressive diving platforms or massive stadiums. They just had personality. The pools are listed in an order which is purely arbitrary and indicates not their worth, but the order in which I thought of them.

8. Le Stadio Olimpico, Rome, Italy
Olimpico, Piazza Gentile da Fabriano, 17, 00196 Roma, Roma (Lazio), Italy

The venue for the 1960 Olympic Games, Rome’s aquatic center is a collection of outdoor pools that look like they’ve been there since the Roman Empire ran Britain. Two of the secondary pools, situated behind the main competition pools and up a small hill, don’t exactly live up to Fina standards for length. I’m guessing the one I used to practice in between races was about 20 meters long. Give or take.

There are two fifty-meter pools at the facility and one is indoors. Its ceiling is incredibly high and is covered with mosaic tiles. There is a long, enclosed wooden walkway that leads from the indoor pool to the Olympic pool outside. The entire venue is probably one of the most amazing I’ve ever seen.

7. North Sydney Olympic Pool, Sydney, Australia

20 Alfred Street South, Milsons Point, New South Wales 2061, Australia

You can’t do much better then North Sydney in terms of location. The pool sits directly beneath the Sydney Harbour Bridge and is flanked by the Luna Park amusement arcade. The water is salt, which burns Australian mosquito bites and tastes simply terrible, but you’ll put up with it to swim in here.

Beat that

6. Freyberg Pool, Wellington, New Zealand
139 Oriental Parade, Wellington, New Zealand

Freyberg pool used to be kind of awful, even though its location is also pretty stellar. When I was younger, the 33.3 meter (yeah, seriously…) pool was seen as the poor second cousin of some of Wellington’s better facilities, such as the newer Regional Aquatic Centre. However, Freyberg has always struck me as a work in progress that has additions and improvements made to it all the time.

The pool appears to stick out from Oriental Parade into Wellington Harbour, its northern and southern facing walls made mostly of glass. Swimwatch’s David had just completed a training session at Freyberg during his university years when a massive Wellington storm blew in some of Freyberg’s panes of glass. That was the same day the Wahine sank in Wellington harbour.

Freyberg’s only drawback is its odd length, which requires swimmers complete three lengths in order to have swum 99.999 meters. However, several good swimmers have trained there, and one may say that training in such a pool improves your chances at being good at both short and long course swimming!

5. Piscine Georges Vallerey, Paris, France
148, Avenue Gambetta, 75020 Paris, France

This pool staged Paris’s Olympic swimming in 1928. It was initially built atop a giant furnace, which is what kept the pool’s water warm. Now, Parisian and French Swimming offices inhabit the space where the furnace used to be. I can’t imagine working beneath that amount of water, but dozens of French swimming administrators do so every day.

4. Newmarket Olympic Pool, Auckland, New Zealand
77 Broadway, Auckland, New Zealand

These two pictures of the Newmarket pool were emailed to me by John Nixon, who manages the facility. Previously, I had a rather unflattering picture of the pool in this post, but this one definitely does the pool justice. It’s a great place. Very near downtown Auckland, Newmarket is a classic old Olympic-sized facility that has been updated with a trendy cafe, fitness center, massage therapy unit and sports shop. When racing in Auckland, we’d drive for half an hour to work out at Newmarket, avoiding Auckland’s newer, more boring pools. The pool was covered in 1993, after being outdoors for many years. The host of the 1950 Empire Games (now Commonwealth Games), it has been an Auckland landmark for well over half a century. Below, the pool is shown as it was in 1950 during the Empire Games.

3. DeNunzio Pool, Princeton, New Jersey, United States

389 Witherspoon St, Princeton, NJ 08542

Princeton University’s pool is awesome. It incorporates everything that a “real” aquatic center should have as well as really feeling like a university pool. That can be a hard balance to achieve. While the University of Minnesota’s pool is a true aquatic center, the University of Washington’s pool is 100% college facility. The DeNunzio pool has all the charm of one with the professionalism of the other. And its flash new scoreboard is neat, too.

2. Belmont Plaza Pool, Long Beach, California, United States

Long Beach’s Belmont Plaza pool is possibly the most famous indoor pool in California. Maybe it’s the only indoor pool in California. If you’ve never been there, you may have seen it as the “school pool” in the movie Van Wilder. Big pictures of swimmers appear on Long Beach’s walls. Numerous international flags are displayed for all us foreign athletes who raced there during Pac 10s and Speedo Cup. The place gets filthy during such large meets and sand comes under the doors from the nearby beach. It’s one of my favourite pools in all the world.

Pac-10 relays prepare to take off

1. Leeds International Pool, Leeds, England
Westgate. Leeds. LS1 4PH

The Leeds International Pool closed permanently in October, 2007. It is a huge shame. The pool was old, a bit decrepit, strangely designed and too shallow. However, it was a landmark. I have heard that a new aquatic center has been built in Leeds to replace the L.I.P. Perhaps in 50 years and after much love and just as much abuse, the new pool might match the antiquated awesomeness of its predecessor.

Please add your own un-recognised pools in the comments. There are far more of them out there than I’ve mentioned here. Include links to pictures if you can find them!
  • Dan Blitz

    Jane — thanks for the fun read about the “pools of the world” — sorry this response is so belated!

    I, too, have been to 3 of the 5 cited “top” pools (University of Minnesota, Fort Lauderdale, and UT-Austin) and I also visited one of your favorites — namely, the super-famous Long Beach Belmont Pool! When I went to Belmont Plaza, I was amazed by the decor (by the way, the pic you have of the indoor pool from the Rome site looks a LOT like the Long Beach pool — are they sister venues?). I asked the front desk clerk whether they held any major events there — it seemed to me, based on the signage, that the pool must have hosted the 1984 Olympics, but that seemed unlikely. They of course had no idea.

    When I left the pool, I found my rental car ticketed because I fed the wrong meter — so to all of you out there who plan to visit this pool, pay close attention to the spot number markings and make sure you match that up with your parking meter!

    A miracle happened several weeks later. I called the Los Angeles County Meter Enforcement division to explain that I fed the wrong meter. Not only did they answer the phone, but the attendant provided me the best customer service I have received over the phone in years! She was cordial, and fair. A week later I got confirmation that the County was letting me off the hook for the $40 parking fine that I would have otherwise had to pay! This is incredible, especially in light of the fact that the State of California, and its major jurisdictions, can use every penny they can get!

    I travel a LOT for work and as a Master’s swimmer I feel a need to keep the training going. I feel so fortunate to have terrific on-line resources coupled by a network of phenomenal people volunteering their time as coaches and responding to my emails asking if I can drop by for a swim. I’d like to cite of few of my North American favorites (or, favourites) as well — places that may or may not offer the best competition venues, but are well maintained, inspiring paces to swim.

    Here’s my “other” top five:

    5. Albuquerque Academy, Albuquerque, NM — terrific, well lit, spacious facility. If you’re a Masters swimmer, and you are visiting Albuquerque, this is absolutely the place to go — the coach, Reed Barnitz, and team are phenomenal.

    4. Brock University, St. Catherine’s, ON, Canada — first of all, the University, set in a countrified-suburban area off the beaten path of nearby Niagara Falls, is beautiful, elegant and inviting. The University, which is one of the fastest-growing institutions of higher learning in Canada, is host to an impressive recreational facility. When being used for lap swimming, the pool is furnished with few if any lane lines, in the tradition of pools outside of the United States. The pool has a moveable bulkhead and is often configured for long course swimming. Most importantly, if you’re ever stuck in the tourist trap town of Niagara Falls, ON, you have a set of wheels and you simply need to get away, this venue is located only 20 minutes away. Trust me when I tell you that you’re much better off swimming in a pool than taking a plunge into the Falls!

    3. The Rose Bowl, Pasadena, CA — The Rose Bowl Aquatics Center is a superb facility in a landmark location. For the other 51 weeks of the year when the Rose Bowl Parade and football championship are not in play, the Rose Bowl complex is a great place to visit. If you’re into walking or running, biking, kite flying, or just laying in the grass, this place is for you. And while you’re there, throw on a pair of jams and treat yourself to a swim at the pool!

    2. Keating Natatorium, St. Xavier High School, Cincinnati, OH — for several decades — 1970’s and 1980’s in particular, if you asked most geographically-aware age-groupers where you’d find the Midwest’s swimming capitol, I think more often than not your answer would have been “Cincinnati” — and the team? Why, the Pepsi Marlins, of course!!! Since then, the team has dropped “Pepsi” from the name (soda no longer sponsoring swimming?), but the Marlins carry on, with excellent coaches, parents and swimmers who are able to bask in the glory of a program that boasts 60 National Champions, 23 Olympic Medals, and a 50m pool that has been in operation since 1969!! If you go there, don’t expect to find your ideal of a world class facility, but get a good workout in and reserve a little time to read through the Keating “Wall of Fame” — a veritable museum of U.S. Swimming legend. But most importantly, when you visit the website you’ll recognize the philosophy of a great program and coaching staff — one that you hear all the time in Coach David’s messages!

    1. AQUA CREST, Delray, FL — need I say more? Thanks Aqua Crest, David and team for providing me a home away from home, when I’m in Florida for the Holidays!! See you in April!

    Best Regards,

    Dan Blitz