Altanta: 1996 and 2008

By David

Some of the world’s great pools are those built for an Olympic Games. I’ve coached swimmers who have competed in the Olympic pools in Paris, Moscow, Barcelona, Sydney, Mexico City, Los Angeles, Rome and Atlanta. Toni Jeffs and Michelle Burke competed for New Zealand in the old Olympic Pool in Melbourne Australia, but I don’t know whether it was the pool used for the 1956 Games.

The pools are all mammoth structures. As well as their size, each one leaves you with an impression of how time has treated them since they were the center of the world’s attention. The pool in Paris, built for the 1924 Games, is the oldest and has the most character. It is located just off the inner ring road that runs around Paris and is a lovely blend of modern and historic . It home is the perfect town for such a union. One of history’s great Olympians, the American Johnny Weissmuller, won the Olympic 100m and 400m there. Weissmuller would later star as Tarzan in the movies and became one of Hollywood’s biggest names. The Paris pool, officially named Piscine Georges Vallerey, has been modernised but preserves the traditions of its history. Today it is 50m, and is divided most of the time by a moveable 25m boom. The water is deep and the pool has a fast reputation. All in all, it’s a lovely place to go swim. Its most amazing feature is that it is built on the third floor. The offices of Sport France and the French Swimming Federation are located under the pool. The punch line has something to do with a drill.

The pool in Rome has fantastic character. It’s one of Jane’s favourites. She wrote a good description of the pool in a recent Swimwatch article that listed her favourite swimming pools.

The biggest pool, bigger even than Sydney, is the pool in Moscow. It is huge. With the exception of the Olympic Games, it is also the site of the biggest crowds I’ve seen at a swim meet. At this year’s World Cup meet the massive stands were packed.

The Mexico City pool is in most need of some tender care. It was built for the 1968 Games and has been sadly neglected. I was there as coach of the Virgin Island‘s swim team. I managed to get one of the swimmers reinstated after he had been disqualified for a dodgy breaststroke turn. The disqualification slip was so badly prepared the officials had no option but to allow the protest. The meet referee was incensed. At the end of the protest meeting he stood up and yelled, “If you were a lawyer, you’re the sort who would get rapists off on a technicality.” Even if you belong to the conservative heartland that believes a badly performed breaststroke turn should be severely punished, I doubt you would put it into the same category as rape. Some of these guys take themselves far too seriously.

The all time acme performance by a New Zealand swimmer occurred in the Georgia Tech Swimming Pool in Atlanta. In 1996, Danyon Loader won the Olympic Games men’s 200 and 400 freestyle there. I was there for the first time last week at the United States Short Course National Championships. It’s a lovely pool and has been well looked after in the years since Danyon swam there. There is none of that awful chlorine stench that plagues some indoor pools. It’s kept at a comfortable temperature. There’s a nice café, an impressive scoreboard and a huge, well equipped weight room. My next comment may be a touch personal but for the life of me I cannot understand why such a well designed facility only has one urinal in the male swimmer’s locker room. I’ve never seen as many guys leaning on a wall waiting to have a pee.

The meet was well run; comfortably up to the standard of the other four United States Nationals I’ve attended. There were all the things we’ve come to expect at US Nationals; a well stocked athlete’s lounge, coach’s hospitality and rapid and easy access to heat sheets and results.

The officials were friendly. I got at least a dozen “welcome to Atlanta” and several “good luck” greetings. The pool was divided to allow women’s and men’s preliminaries to be swum at the same time. That avoided those endless sessions of heats that must rank as one of the worst aspects of this sport. Facilities that hold National Championships from now on should supply those new Omega starting blocks that were used in this year’s Sweden World Cup. I suspect the new blocks will soon be standard issue at international meets and US swimmers, at this level, should get used to using them. I had only one complaint. There was a dreadful cue of spectators waiting to purchase tickets for the finals. It was not the seller’s fault. Whoever designed the system she was expected to use needs to come up with something better. Certainly, it’s not right to charge people full price when it’s a tardy system that results in people standing waiting for a ticket while the races they’ve come to see have been underway for quarter of an hour. US Swimming will not fill their stadium with a Moscow size crowd that way.

Our team had two swimmers qualify for the meet but only Skuba traveled to Atlanta. He swam four races and recorded four personal best times. His 50 yards free improved by 0.47 seconds from 21.32 to 20.85 and his 100 meters free improved by 1.34 seconds from 53.73 to 52.39. After three years off, Skuba has been back in training for less than a year and is doing very well. It is good to see someone respond to the stimulus of a US Nationals in such a positive and successful way. Atlanta is a bloody nice place to do it as well – just ask Danyon Loader.