Olympic Pools 101

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It’s an Olympic time of year.  The Winter Olympics are in Pyeongchang South Korea and the patriot pride is running high.  While all the water events this year involve frozen water, the summer Olympics are in Tokyo in 2020 when swimming returns, it’s a perfect time to talk about training and swimming in actual Olympic Pools. 

So what exactly goes into the design of an Olympic pool and how are they different from the pools the rest of us swim in on a regular basis?

Competitions can’t be held in just any large pool. There are specific requirements to graner the label “Olympic.” These regulations are determined and enforced by the Federation Internationale de Natation (FINA).

Although each pool has its own style design to match the venue, there are some guidelines they all have to follow when designing the layout and size.

Highlights of Olympic Pool Design

  • Depth: Minimum 2 meters deep. No restriction on max.
  • Length: 50 meters long. (+.030m tolerance to accomodate touch panels.)
  • 10 lanes: 8 for swimmers, two for buffering waves
  • Lane width of 2.5 meters with a buoyed rope
  • Lines marking the lanes on the bottom of the pool
  • 6 ½ feet before the end, the bottom lane line stops to notify swimmers
  • A false start rope placed 15 meters from the start line
  • A flagged backstroke turn line placed almost 4 feet above the surface
Image Source: Wikipedia

Changes and Trends

2009 – FINA Congress rules were approved for 10-lane courses for competition, as an alternative to the more traditional 8-lane course. In RIO the outside lanes were used to buffer the waves for the outside swimmers.

What Makes a Pool Faster?

Depth. “A fast pool typically has at least three meters of depth to it,” says Teri McKeever, head coach of the University of California’s women’s swimming team, and who served as the U.S. head coach at London 2012. “The deeper the pool is the better, because the splash or the turbulence and everything takes longer to get down to the bottom and then it doesn’t ricochet back up into the swimmers.”

Notable Olympic Pools in History

While the very first olympic swimming events weren’t held in pools, much has changed since they changed from “Nautical Games” in rivers, lakes, and oceans to our modern swimming events. Controlling the environment and making sure it is equal level for everybody involved is a crucial component when you are running an International competition watched by the world. Here are some of the more notable moments and pools in the history of the Olympics, each one playing a major role in it’s growth as a sport.

1924: Paris’ Olympic Swimming Pool

The very first Olympic swimming pool made its debut in the 1924 Olympics. Piscene Georges Vallerey pool still exists today. It has some major upgrades and will be hosting the 2018 Gay Games within its walls.

It’s original features include:

  • A considerably shallow depth of less than 10 feet
  • A width of approximately 82 feet
  • Spectator seating up close and personal to the poolside
  • Narrow pool decks

1996: Atlanta’s Olympic Swimming Pool

The pool at Atlanta’s Summer Olympics was specifically designed. It boasted unique architecture with an outdoor and indoor feel. The pool’s sides were open to the elements, but it had a roof covering the entire area.

More adaptable than the first Olympic pool 72 years prior, this pool’s design included:

  • 108 foot length and 72 foot width
  • Spacious pool decks
  • Outdoor opening which offered cool breezes to combat the humidity
  • An adjustable floor that could be set to a specific depth: 8 feet for the competition

2008: Beijing’s Olympic Swimming Pool

As records fell in the 2008 Beijing swim events, physics reigned supreme. The design of China’s pool enhanced the ability of swimmers to maximize their potential. How? The design took wave dissipation, optimal conditions for vision, and lane placement into consideration.

Here are the changes that resulted in the fastest pool to be utilized at the time:

  • 10 lanes instead of 8
  • Perforated gutters to suck the waves out of the way
  • 10 feet deep instead of 7
  • Expansive stadium to give athletes space to focus

2016: Rio’s Olympic Swimming Pool

Although Rio De Janeiro’s Olympic Pool did not house as many falling records as China’s fast pool, it crushed the records set in London during the 2012 Olympics. It is heralded as another fast pool, just not the fastest.

Rio’s pool had the technology but was missing some of the components of the pool in Beijing. Here’s what Rio had to offer:

  • Deeper pool to dissipate waves instead of bouncing them back to athletes at 10 feet
  • Gutters and bumpers between lanes designed to stabilize the water
  • 10 lanes to provide space for waves to be absorbed
  • Flat walls that allowed for slightly higher circulation of waves

Lap Pools vs Lane Pools

Outside of an actual olympic pool, there are two good options to keep your training alive. Lap Pools are for swimming endurance, but not necessarily to simulate the experience of the event pool.  Equipped with a high speed jet, “which you cannot swim faster than” they are a great option to get some pace timing in. Lane Pools we create to mimic the the swim  of any sized pool you want, including olympic pools. Any ideal lane pool will include enough width to prevent wash back off the walls, and be exactly 50 meters. If counting reps is the important factor and space is limited, we would consider a 25 meter pool, breaking your distance in half, but adding more reps to the rotation.

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