With the London Olympics almost upon us, these are exciting times for swimming in the UK and the swimming pool industry as
a whole. At five key training centres across Britain, competing swimmers are working flat out before they go for gold – and
already swimming pools are seeing a dramatic increase in interest, particularly amongst youngsters. Watching highly-trained athletes competing in any sport engenders real enthusiasm in young people aspiring to achieve the pinnacle in their chosen sport. The spotlight falls on the pool when television screens across the world show the likes of Tom Daley and Rebecca Adlington
proving themselves the best at what they do. Tom Daley, Double Commonwealth Diving Gold medallist and 2012 hopeful, did the first dive in the completed Olympic pool. He said: “Doing the first dive in the Aquatics Centre was an incredible privilege. Only a few years ago, this was a distant dream. I can’t wait for the honour of representing Team GB.” The London Olympics is, first and foremost, a showcase for Britain, British talent and British construction techniques and organisation.
CLASS OF 2012
British Swimming looks to better results in every four-year cycle. As a benchmark, Britain won six medals in Beijing with 21 finalists. There are no official targets but a haul of two or three medals is definitely on the agenda. If the class of 2012 are true to their potential, it should be a memorable Games for Britain in the pool. Beijing double gold medallist Rebecca Adlington will be joined by a powerful group of female swimmers, plus world-beating backstroke specialist Liam Tancock.
In the 10km event, Team GB won two silvers and a bronze in Beijing, half of all the medals available. Two golds are more than
possible at the London Games. As well as Rebecca Adlington, the ones to watch in the pool are Gemma Spofforth, Fran Halsall, Lizzie Simmonds, Joanne Jackson, Jaz Carlin and Liam Tancock while in the 10km, listen out for Keri-Anne Payne, Cassie Patten and David Davies.
But once all the fuss has died down how will the much-hailed promises of the ‘legacy’ impact on London and Britain, after the
Olympics circus has left town. “Swimming is one of the 26 sports that will benefit from the Olympics being here,” enthuses 2004 Athens bronze medallist Steve Parry, who founded Total Swimming – a company dedicated to educating youngsters about swimming. “The facilities we have in the UK are excellent and after every Olympics there is a dramatic increase in people taking up allkinds of sport – especially swimming. “The legacy of these Olympics is likely be a ten-fold increase in people taking up swimming.” Three million people across the UK go swimming every week, according to the latest statistics. David Sparkes, chief executive of British Swimming, says: “The Games will capture the nation’s interest and swimming will feature strongly throughout the Games. This will, in our view, encourage many to think about going back to swimming or learning to swim for the first time.
“It is important that everyone in the industry is ready to respond to this massively increased interest in swimming.” Duncan Goodhew made his Olympic debut in 1976 while still a student, going on to win gold in the 1980 Moscow Olympics in the 100m breaststroke and bronze in the 4x100m medley relay. “The Olympics is just an incredible experience and gives youngsters so much inspiration,” he says. “Swimming interest always increases around the Olympics and we will see a massive increase in people taking up the sport. “The legacy of the Olympics will be in the improved facilities and a recognition of the importance of
swimming for health and as a sport.” Duncan’s expertise and motivational speaking is legendary and he has adapted the lessons he learned in the pool to assist businesses and charities worldwide. He is currently championing the British Gas campaign “Get Britain Swimming”.
There are five main training centres for Olympic teams in the UK which are ITCs (Intensive Training Centres):
• Sterling • Manchester • Loughborough University • Swansea • Bath
“All these areas will see a growth in interest in swimming and a focus on their superb facilities,” says Steve Parry, whose own company is responsible for taking temporary pools to deprived areas of the country as part of the British Gas “Pools 4 Schools” campaign. His staff of 12 includes pool engineers and swimming instructors. So far 10,000 youngsters in England have been given
swimming training in these temporary (six-week) pools and the scheme is starting in Scotland in April and Wales later this year.
The Astral Sky Pools average 12 by six metres but go up to 25 metres long. “There has been a vast increase in the number of 50metre pools across the UK,” says Steve. “I have never been so excited by an Olympics as this one. It is going to be great for swimming and sport in general. “Our women’s swimming team is the third best in the world and has never been stronger, so we can look forward to some golds, I’m sure. “The legacy of the Olympics will be improved facilities andincreased participation and a general all-round awareness of swimming as a sport.
Olympics Delivery Authority chairman John Armitt agres: “The Aquatics Centre will be a fantastic gateway to the Games in 2012 and a much-needed new community and elite sporting venue for the capital afterwards “The completion of the Aquatics Centre is the latest chapter in a British success story where tens of thousands of workers and business from across the UK have demonstrated the ability of this country to successfully deliver major projects.” Andrew Altman, Chief Executive of the Olympic Park Legacy Company, said: “The Aquatics Centre is a unique facility in London that puts sport at the heart of regeneration. As a focal point for community, national and international swimming, it will sit at the centre of the south plaza – London’s newest public space which will welcome visitors to the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park after the Games.” Construction started on the Zaha Hadid-designed Aquatics Centre in June 2008 and was completed on time and with an exemplary safety record. Over 3,630 people have worked on the construction of the venue and over 370 UK businesses have won supply contracts. They include the steel for the roof from Wales, pool lights from Scotland, pumps from Bedfordshire, under-floor heating by a company from Newcastle-upon-Tyne and water testing done by a Flintshire-based business. The moving floor of the Olympics venue was supplied by Variopool of the Netherlands. In total, over 40,000 people have worked on the Park since April 2008 and over 1500 direct contracts worth £6bn have been distributed to thousands of companies across the UK.
Modern swimming is a tough enough sport as it is. But spare a thought for the very first Olympic swimmers at Athens in 1896.
That year the Games coincided with an unusual cold snap in Greece. In those days, the competition was held on open water and competitors had to endure sea temperatures of 55F (13C). Nowadays, the world governing body insists on a uniform water temperature of 26C, plus or minus one degree. Since the 1908 London Games, swimming races have been held in a pool. The 1908 version was 100 metres long and built inside the running track at White City, where miraculously nobody was harpooned by a stray javelin. Long-distance swimming, in open water, is one of the newest events in the Olympic programme but also, curiously, one of the oldest. While it made its debut in Beijing in 2008 with the introduction of men’s and women’s 10km races, it is a throwback to the first modern Olympic Games in Athens in 1896, when swimming races were staged in the bitterly cold Bay of Zea.