A renaissance for British Swimming is underway at the London Aquatics Centre

London 2012 Swimming

London Aquatics Centre is the gateway to London's Olympic Park

The GBR swimming team visited the Aquatics Centre site to take a look at the progress being made at the site in May 2009. From left: Joanne Jackson, Rebecca Adlington, David Davies.With its distinctive architecture and curved roof, the London Aquatics Centre will be the first venue visitors see upon entering the Olympic Park. Sebastian Coe, chairman of the London 2012 Organising committee, and an Olympic track legend in his own right explains "we thought it was really important to present this iconic venue for the Summer Olympic Games".  More than two thirds of all Olympic spectators will enter Olympic Park via a vast bridge that runs over a section of the aquatics Centre.

The venue was designed by Pritzker Prize winning architect Zaha Hadid in 2004 before London was even awarded the summer's Olympic Games. It is certainly one of the most impressive venues constructed for the 2012 Summer Olympics and the 2012 Summer Paralympics.

The London Aquatics Centre is located in the Olympic Park at Stratford in east London and cost US $427 million dollars. Construction on this venue began several months prior to the Beijing Olympics and was completed last summer just days before the 2011 Shanghai World Championships began. The venue will be used for the Olympic swimming, diving and synchronized swimming competitions and features two 50 metre swimming pools and a 25 metre diving pool.
 
In February the venue hosted the world best divers at the 18th FINA World Cup, an event which was dominated by many outstanding performances from Chinese divers. This same venue will host the FINA Olympic Games Synchronised Swimming Qualification event in April. A separate building only 400m away was built for the Olympic water polo competition. The men's and women's Open Water 10K events will be held at the Serpentine located in Hyde Park.


Aerial view of the Aquatics Centre on the Olympic Park, 20 Dec. 2011
Aerial view of the Aquatics Centre on the Olympic Park, 20 Dec. 2011


From the 3 to the 10th of March the London Aquatics Centre played host to the British National Championships where just shy of 900 athletes were invited to test and to part the Olympic waters. This meet served as the selection event for the team that British Swimming will assemble for what might in fact be their best swimming performance ever in the history of Olympics. 
  
Britain's love affair with the Olympic Games is a matter of historical record. Great Britain was one of 14 teams to compete in the first modern Games, the 1896 Summer Olympics, and the nation has competed at every Olympic Games since. Australia, Great Britain and Switzerland are the only countries to send a team to every Olympic Games. This is the third time the Olympics will be held in London, the only city to be accorded this honor. Athletes representing Great Britain have won 65 swimming medals at the Summer Olympic Games, but only 15 of them gold in the 116 year history of the modern Olympics. Great Britain is however the only team to have won at least one gold medal at every Summer Games. British swimmers failed to collect any Olympic medals at the 1936 Berlin Games and just 12 years ago in Sydney.
 
A renaissance in British swimming is underway and swimming before a home audience is surely one of the great motivations for British swimmers to fight hard for their spot on the Great Britain Olympic Team. Impressive strides have been made since the 2000 Olympic Games when the Brits were shut out of the swimming medal count in Sydney. In Athens at the 2004 Olympic Summer Games the UK team collected just two bronze medals. David Davies is the owner of one of the bronze medals from the 1500m freestyle as well as a silver medal in the 2008 Olympic 10K Swim Marathon. Davies will be hoping to qualify for his third Olympic team while aiming for a gold medal this summer. If he does, he will be the only British swimmer in history to achieve a gold, silver and bronze Olympic medal.


Christopher Mears of Great Britain in action during the men's 3m springboard semi-final of the 18th FINA Visa Diving World Cup at the Aquatics Centre, 22 Feb. 2012
Christopher Mears (GBR) in action during the men's 3m springboard semi-final
of the 18th FINA Visa Diving World Cup at the Aquatics Centre, 22 Feb. 2012


Powered by double gold medalist Rebecca Adlington, the team from the United Kingdom left Beijing in 2008 with a hefty collection of 6 medals (two gold, two silver and two bronze) and a third place ranking in the medals table behind only the USA and Australia. Great Britain last won 6 swimming medals in the year that the Titanic struck an iceberg, 1912. Four years earlier was the high water mark for swimming medals won at the 1908 Olympic Games. In that year, the first London Olympics, British swimmers earned 4 gold and a total of 7 medals. Adlington's 400m freestyle gold medal was Britain's first Olympic swimming title since 1988, and the first swimming gold by a British woman since 1960. She collected her second gold medal in the 800m freestyle, equaled the best performance by a British woman, from any sport, at the Summer Olympics and hers was the best swimming performance by a Brit at the Olympics in 100 years.
 
In this pool the British are eager to make a hometown Olympics their best ever. Everything depends on the selection of great Olympians in March and their ability to swim even faster in July and August. Most of their Olympic and Paralympic team will be named by the end of their week-long Olympic qualification events at the same pool that will be used for the contests this summer. Although the venue is configured for only 2,500 spectators for the British Nationals, the UK's selection event for the 2012 Olympic Games, it will be expanded to a capacity of 17,500 for the Olympic Games. The spectator seating areas will be reduced to 2,5000 following the Paralympics.
 
The inside of the pool is well lit and spacious and all eyes are drawn first to the pool and then upwards. A magnificent ceiling was built with 30,000 sections of Red Lauro timber which gives the awestruck spectator the image of the underbelly of a huge blue whale. That same beautiful ceiling creates an optical illusion and some minor confusion for backstrokers. Several who were trying to follow the line of the ceiling towards the end of the lane did so only to find that they weren't following a straight line in their lane or traveling the shortest distance between the walls. After crashing into the lane markers during prelim swims, backstrokers quickly adapted their race plan.


Visitors get a chance to look inside the Aquatics Centre at Open House, when the Olympic Park was opened up to the public, 13 Sep. 2011
Visitors get a chance to look inside the Aquatics Centre at Open House,
when the Olympic Park was opened up to the public, 13 Sep. 2011


Omega offers new "bells and whistles" in a starting block at the swimming test event

Few of the athletes noticed the spectator friendly features created by Omega in the starting block that they were testing for possible use at the Olympics. At the start of each event a red strobe light flashes under the blocks. The most significant innovation is a set of three lights on each side of the block which are illuminated red only for the first three places. The first swimmer will have one light lit on both sides of the block, two for the second place swimmer and three red lights for the third place swimmer. The lights are visible only to the spectators not the athlete who will still need to look back at the scoreboard for the reordering of the results board to indicate the official order of finish and the result time.
 
British Head coach Dennis Pursley insists a home town pool will be a distinct advantage. "A chance to swim in your house is how we're seeing this," he said. British Olympic hopeful Joseph Roebuck said: "I think it's going to be amazing in July, the crowd is already fantastic and it's going to be crazy this summer swimming in front of our families and fans". Roebuck who is hoping to earn his spot on the Olympic team and "the keys to the house" in the individual medley and butterfly events.
 
"Fantastic", "thrilling" and "cracking" were superlatives scribbled down by Swim New's Craig Lord as he interviewed scores of athletes on the first morning of swimming. The British Nationals were open to foreign guests who were permitted to swim in the preliminaries of all events;  the finals were strictly a British affair. Some of the world's best swimmers came to London to get a feel for the venue and to take their first swim in the Olympic venue
 
World record holder Paul Biedermann filmed his tour of the venue so he could show his German teammates who did not attend this meet. Biederman said: "At first I thought this seems quite narrow here, but when they open the additional wings for spectator seating it will probably be really extensive, just like in Beijing. I like the international flair of the venue and I think this is some really fast water in the pool. The ways around the pool are really quite short and It is all very well organized.”  "London has built a fine pool", said Paul Biederman's coach Frank Embacher, "but the Beijing facility was amazing, it was just out of this world".
 
French swimmer Yannick Agnel noted: "I like the pool a lot but for us, the most important, this is about reconnaissance and knowing where things are." Angel's teammate Camille Muffat was glad to see the venue in person. "When I saw the pictures of the London pool, I thought it was less impressive than the Water Cube but in fact it is really nice and practical." "The pool has charm," French Olympian Sébastien Rouault told L'Equipe. "The quality of light is fine for swimmers. There was also atmosphere even in heats here and that was not really the case in Beijing. That's also important for the success of a place." His teammate Clement Lefert added: "The Water Cube takes your breath away. Here, the pool has a more European dimension - but that's pleasant." 

Austrian Markus Rogan said it best when he observed "this pool was built with athletes in mind".