My Chance to Swim at the Newly Reopened London Olympic Pool

As part of the 2014 Bath Relay School Swimming Championships, I got the opportunity to visit the London Aquatics Center, which is opening for the first time since the Olympics. My school, King Henry VIII school in Coventry, England entered four boys and fours girls in the relays-only meet.

The drive to London (via bus) was quite long, which necessitated leaving the school at 6:40. As expected, the trip there was somewhat boring and uneventful. With only minor difficulties (we got slightly lost), we made it to the meet on time for warm up.

Since the Olympics, the large wings holding approximately 7,000 seats each were removed, and replaced with gigantic glass panels. This made the entire structure feel very open and let in a lot of natural light. The ceiling lights played only a minimal role in lighting. However this (combined with my camera being an iPad and having no specific knowledge of photography) made taking pictures somewhat tricky.

Looking at pictures of the pool during the Olympics, I always felt it looked quite claustrophobic with the low ceiling compared to the high arches of seating. The removal of the extra grandstands made the building seem much more open. Indeed, light could flow right from one side through and out the other, and by comparison the roof appeared more higher and the building more spacious.

Additionally, I found there were many nice details that made the venue feel special. Little touches like shiny chrome banisters, heavy use of glass, tall doors and the large windows made the pool feel highly spacious, sleek, and clean.

One thing I realized in retrospect is that there was almost zero mention of the Olympics. Gone were the gigantic Olympic banners behind the diving well, or the Olympic rings and national flags above the main entrance. I suppose that this was to emphasize the continued use and evolution of the arena after the Games. However, as far as I could tell there was not one banner with the Olympic rings, nor any plaques dedicated to the event. I would have at least liked a large plaque in the entrance area with the details of the Games, and possibly a listing of gold medalists or world record setters. One of my favorite things about the Indianapolis Natatorium is that it is almost museum-like, with large banners showing the names of Gold medalists hanging from the rafters, the names of Olympians written on the back and the handprints of national teamers shown in the lobby. I think that the Olympics, as the personification of human greatness, deserve that kind of historical acknowledgement, be it in banners, plaques, handprints or whatever. The London pool was somewhat disappointing in that regard.

Warm up was predictably crowded. While the pool was 10 lanes across and 50 meters long, lanes still peaked at well over 30 swimmers each, I would estimate. This made it somewhat analogous to a bloodbath and make kicking alone impossible.

The first event was the 400 freestyle relay. I was the leadoff leg, and being a poor sprinter and a poor freestyler, promptly put us near the end of the group. We finished with a time of 4:09, approximately a minute slower than the Olympic record. Our time was buoyed by our anchor, Jacob Salisbury, who was a Great British Junior National teamer before injuries, but we missed the small school final and lost to our rival school in Coventry.

In between the race and warm ups we ate lunch and explored the arena some. I took the opportunity to take many pictures and checked out the lower lobby and eating areas. Being so new, it was all clean and relatively shiny, which was a stark contrast to the local 50m pool at the Coventry Sports Center.

We managed to turn things around in the prelims of the medley relay. We qualified third for the small schools final. Knowing that the top 3 schools in each category (overall and small schools) get medals, were were excited about our prospects, especially since second place was only a second ahead. In the final we got out to an early lead, thanks to Jacob’s backstroke leg. However we lost a little ground in the breaststroke leg. When I was beginning my fly leg we were roughly second. I swam pretty well and hit both my start and finish well enough, however I put us in third place. I quickly got out and watched to see how we did.

Sadly our freshman freestyler could not hold off the onslaught from the other teams and we finished fourth. However, we improved over a second from the prelims, so we had no reason to be truly disappointed. We went home a little disappointed about what could have been, but knowing that we swam as well as could have been expected, and were happy for the opportunity to swim at the 2012 Olympic pool.

 

Photo Essay (all taken by the author, except where otherwise indicated).

The interior of the swimming complex as seen from the main entrance.

The interior of the swimming complex as seen from the main entrance.

The author at the main entrance. Photo Credit: Margaret Ballantyne.

The author at the main entrance. Photo Credit: Margaret Ballantyne.

BernhardtLondonPool3

Warm up was somewhat violent. Photo Credit: Margaret Ballantyne.

Warm up was somewhat violent. Photo Credit: Margaret Ballantyne.

The main entrance can be seen in this picture. Since the Olympics the video screen has been removed. Notice the large holes in the ceiling containing lighting fixtures.

The main entrance can be seen in this picture. Since the Olympics the video screen has been removed. Notice the large holes in the ceiling containing lighting fixtures.

The diving well has been stripped of the Olympic banners it wore during the Games.

The diving well has been stripped of the Olympic banners it wore during the Games.

The stands have been replaced by large glass panels.

The stands have been replaced by large glass panels.

The Olympic Stadium, as viewed through the large windows of the Aquatics Center.

The Olympic Stadium, as viewed through the large windows of the Aquatics Center.

In front of the front entrance a circular glass and concrete wall has been placed. Behind the glass is various tables and the warm up pool.

In front of the front entrance a circular glass and concrete wall has been placed. Behind the glass is various tables and the warm up pool.

King Henry VII swam in lane two during the final. Photo Credit: Margaret Ballantyne.

King Henry VII swam in lane two during the final. Photo Credit: Margaret Ballantyne.

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morrow3
8 years ago

Wow if that 4th picture depicts “crowded” conditions, please never come to Far Westerns, or any meet in Pacific Swimming.

About Robert Bernhardt

Robert, a Canadian-born native of Champaign Illinois, is a high school junior at King Henry VIII School in Coventry, England. Robert has enjoyed significant success in his swimming at the local level since the age of seven, but nothing good enough to warrant being on this site. Outside of swimming …

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