Top 10 Must-Visit Sites for a Swim Meet in the United States

  81 Braden Keith | May 28th, 2013 | Featured, Lifestyle, National, News

Note: Belmont probably would have been on this list, were it not for being recently shut down for a complete remodel. We’ll have to wait until the new pool is open to see if it can recapture the feel of the old natatorium.

10. Student Rec Center Natatorium, College Station, Texas – The Texas A&M University pool has been host to a few major meets, including both the men’s and women’s events during the 2009 suited years. The Aggies always put on a good show, though, including appearances by their pep band, and enough goodies to get the students to turn out pretty well for just about any meet (especially for the big rivalry meets against Texas.) Besides NCAA Championships, it’s one of only five American pools to have hosted a stop on the FINA World Series Circuit. There are few things in swimming that’s more chilling than members of the Corps of Cadets bugling the National Anthem from the diving platforms.

Texas A&M buglers perch atop the diving platforms in one of the most spine-chilling spectacles in swimming. (Photo: Janna Schulze)

Texas A&M buglers perch atop the diving platforms in one of the most spine-chilling spectacles in swimming. (Photo: Janna Schulze)

Gabrielsen Natatorium, Athens, Georgia

Gabrielsen Natatorium, Athens, Georgia

9. Gabrielsen Natatorium, Athens, Georgia –  The Georgia women have won 82 straight meets at home at the Gabrielsen Natatorium, and they routinely pack 500 fans in for regular-season dual meets. The heated rivalries of the SEC spill over into swimming, and huge skylights on the ceiling result in great lighting.

8. Evanston Township/New Trier High School, Illinois – These two pools are relatively ancient – each is over 60 years old. They are shallow, and lack the state-of-the-art bells and whistles that create the modern “fast pool”. Evanston isn’t even an 8-lane pool – it can only fit a final of 6. Yet, somehow, these two pools that have hosted the State Championship meet for the last 50 years or so still produce National Records. With fans surrounding the pools on three sides, and an overflow crowd almost on top of the pool, the intensity of the atmosphere is completely unmatched.

The Evanston Township Pool in suburban Chicago may be only 6 lanes, but the atmosphere is unparalleled in high school swimming. (Photo: Evanston Township)

The Evanston Township Pool in suburban Chicago may be only 6 lanes, but the atmosphere is unparalleled in high school swimming. (Photo: Evanston Township)

7. Avery Aquatics Center, Palo Alto, California –  The home of Stanford’s aquatic teams is nice, very nice. Some consider it the best outdoor swimming arena in the nation for swimming fans to enjoy race action. Just look at stands towering over either side of the pool. Who wouldn’t want to race there before a packed house, and Stanford does fills the seats.

Avery Aquatics Center, Palo Alto, California

Avery Aquatics Center, Palo Alto, California

With four NCAA Team Titles and a long history of producing 50 NCAA champions, swimming is a top tier sport at the University. Avery Aquatic Center hosted the 2011 Junior and Senior Nationals, and it’s played hosted to US Olympic Teams as a training camp, 2004 and 2008. The facility is spectacular, with a glut of pools, and one designed specifically to create a high-intensity collegiate atmosphere.

ISHOF Pool

ISHOF Pool

6. International Swimming Hall of Fame Pool, Ft. Lauderdale, Florida – Location, location, location. That’s the mantra in real estate. What the International Swimming Hall of Fame (ISHOF) Pool lacks in design is offset by its vacation destination appeal.  Ft. Lauderdale had been the YMCA Spring Nationals go-to location for decades (until the event moved to Greensboro, NC). Families, by the thousands, made it the vacation-meet for fun in the sun and fast swimming. Ft. Lauderdale has hosted countless USA Swimming Nationals and Junior National Championships over the years. Ample hotel space within walking distance should be noted, and yes, we can’t forget the beach, a mere 30 yards away. ISHOF HQ has always been a draw for hardcore swimmers and families (though the HQ may be moving). Much credit goes to the tireless work of ISHOF CEO Bruce Wigo, the professor of swimming. On any random day, you could walk through the ISHOF doors and be entranced by his entertaining tales of swimming intrigue and greatness.

Georgia Tech Aquatics Center, Atlanta, Georgia

Georgia Tech Aquatics Center, Atlanta, Georgia

5. Georgia Tech Aquatics Center, Atlanta, Georgia – Georgia Tech hit the jackpot when Atlanta got the 1996 Summer Olympic Games. The result: the Georgia Tech Aquatics Center. Since the Atlanta Games this facility has hosted ACC Champs, NCAA Zone Diving Champs, and, perhaps, the best made-for-TV event in swimming, the 2011 Mutual of Omaha Duel in the Pool.

4. University Aquatics Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota – This is a personal favorite, as the pool has a great fieldhouse-style architecture. It’s big, but it’s not so huge, and fans are close enough to the pool, as to capture the noise from the fans that line both sides of the pool. The NCAA loves this pool to; despite the chance for chilly temperatures in March, the pool will host the 2014 NCAA Championships for the women, which will be its 21st hosted NCAA Championship meet. The pool got a mostly cosmetic renovation this past year, including a brand new scoreboard, and some new overhead skylights to give it even more natural lighting.

University Aquatics Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota

University Aquatics Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota

3. CenturyLink Center, Omaha, Nebraska (featured photo, credit: Tim Binning, theswimpictures) – The CenturyLink Center didn’t have all of the bells and whistles that many of their competitors to host the 2016 Olympic Trials did. What they did provide, however, was a huge basketball-style arena that could be filled to the brim for finals sessions. One need not look much further than the spectacular venue shots done by Mike Lewis at this year’s Trials to see what’s so amazing about this place (see the headline shot.) The flash and the flair designed to host rock concerts and high level college basketball instead turns its spotlight to swimming, flames and all.

2. Lee and Joe Jamail Swim Center, Austin, Texas – If you swim, you have probably swum at the Lee and Joe Jamail Swim Center in Austin, Texas.  Grand Prix competitions, Nationals, Junior Nationals, Olympic Trials, NCAA Championships, they’ve all been hosted in Austin. Since 1978 this 50 meter temple to swimming has been the go-to for elites and rising stars. History? The Texas Swim Center has it in spades, but in the interest of keeping this brief, we’ll drop one moment in time, March 30th, 2001, when a 15 year old Michael Phelps broke his first world record in the 200 meters butterfly at the World Championship Trials, 1:54.92.

Texas Swim Center

Texas Swim Center

 

1. IU Natatorium, Indianapolis, Indiana – The biggest permanent swimming facility in the United States is perhaps home to the bulk of its history in the last 30 years. This pool on the campus of IUPUI is not just A natatorium. It is THE natatorium. All fast racers come to Indy. Since opening to 1982, the pool according to its official website has seen 103 American Records and 15 World Records. It has hosted 13 men’s NCAA Championship meets, 13 women’s NCAA Championship meets, and through an agreement with the NCAA will see several more over the next decade for all divisions. They hosted 8 of the first historic 14 women’s NCAA Championship meets after full inclusion in the 80’s. The history here is just unreal – the pool designed to be a mecca of American swimming has done just that, hosting four Olympic Trials meets out of five between 1984 and 2000.

 

IUPUI Natatorium, Indianapolis, Indiana

IUPUI Natatorium, Indianapolis, Indiana

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81 Comments on "Top 10 Must-Visit Sites for a Swim Meet in the United States"


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Peter
3 years 4 months ago

Fun fact: The New Trier pool was originally a WPA project during the depression.

Overrated
3 years 4 months ago

I know there is a lot of history at the iupui pool, but I thought it was a underwhelming experience when I swam there at NCAAs. It is so dark and depressing nothing really special about it. The crowd didnt really get into the meet at all. I don’t even think it is comparable to the Omaha venue from a swimmers perspective

DutchWomen
3 years 4 months ago

Unfortunately for whatever reason it doesn’t fill for NCAA’s…but Trials was electric back in the day, before we were spoiled with Omaha. Imagine it packed with 6,000 vs the 1,000 or so that were at NCAA’s, if that. Completely different atmosphere. Sad fact – just as many people watch the Indiana High School girls meet as men’s NCAA’s at the nat…. And….Vlad split 17.86 there, so that has to count for something.

WaveNation
3 years 4 months ago

Agreed, both the Girls & Boys Indiana State Championships had a much more intense feel this year.

ML
3 years 4 months ago

Hey, I just swam in the #1 pool for my morning workout while in Indy on business! First time I have swum in that pool in almost 20 years, and not much has changed.

PsychoDad
3 years 4 months ago

I know Braden wanted to put Texas Swim Center on the top, but did not want to be accused of a bias. There is no place like that anywhere. It is a magical place for simmers, for officials, for parents. You cannot throw a swim cap without hitting a gold medal Olympian when you go to a meet. Example, I took our son to a UT meet this year; Branden Hansen was doing commentary; Dave Walters was next to us and Dale Rodgers above us. I took him to meet all of them. On the way out we run into Ricky Berens. Our son was overwhelmed…He also swims best times at the UT center and he swims about 10 meets a year there. He knows you do not go into that building without giving your best – and show respect to banners and names on the wall.

completelyconquered
3 years 4 months ago

Why would it be bias if Braden put TSC at the top of the list? The guy went to Texas A&M.

Kirk Nelson
3 years 4 months ago

One minor correction is that the pool in Indy is called the IU Natatorium now. Not sure when or why the IUPUI was dropped in favor of just IU, but anything official now refers to it as “IU Natatorium.”

SWise
1 year 10 months ago

Actually, IU has its own natatorium. The one in Indy is still IUPUI

Sean Justice
3 years 4 months ago

If you haven’t ever been to Canton, Ohio where the Ohio State High School Championships are, it is a great venue. It gets loud and the fans are packed in. In the 90s, it had some outstanding swims!!

If Braden had put Texas A&M at number 1, I would have to agree. it is a great place swim as long as it is regulation length :-P.

Steven
3 years 4 months ago
Sean Justice
3 years 4 months ago

Great videos!! I loved swimming there when the swimming was under one division….it sometimes took a junior national cut to make it back in finals!!

3 years 3 months ago

I’m a bit biased, but I can’t imagine how the atmosphere inside the C.T. Branin Natatorium for the Ohio High School State Championships can be topped anywhere in the USA. This is a great picture, but it only shows two of the three sides of fan seating:

http://www.ohsaa.org/news/features/22409.htm

Even crazier is the way officials hand out numbers at 7:30 a.m. for the general admission seating when the doors open at 9 a.m. The first 500 in line get a number letting them enter first, and so fans start lining up at before midnight. Last year our team’s parents showed up at 3:30 a.m. and we were already at No. 240. Craziness!

Mark Schilling
3 years 3 months ago

Here here! I swam at a few state champ meets there in the mid 90s and it was an amazing place! The pool itself wasn’t anything amazing but it was magically great place for meets. I swear that St. X would bring 500 students up to that meet! Crazy!

ChicagoSwimmingAlum
3 years 1 month ago

Just happened on this article by chance and, as a Chicago-area HS swimming alum 10+ years out, was really happy to see the Evanston inclusion & pic (recognized it by sight while scrolling pretty fast, even despite the wide-angle distortion). I try to stay away from these swimming sites to avoid the nostalgia trap as I’m now well out of swimming, but just can’t ignore the temptation to comment. I can’t tell if the author is from IL, but he seems not to be, so I’m all that much more impressed that it was singled out for HS, and so aptly described. I can’t help but comment that the wide-angle shot (obviously taken from an early individual prelim heat), while well-done, significantly understates the crowd’s size and level of engagement (not one person would be sitting if it were the medley relay final).

For those from OH or anywhere else that might cry foul: I think the reason IL gets the nod, in addition to the nature of the venue(s), is because of how unique/extreme the focus is for the state’s system on HS over club swimming — there might be some other states that put them roughly on par or might even have a slightly bigger emphasis on HS, but in IL, clubs are basically a farm system and/or off-season ‘upkeep’ for the HS teams. [This might be more common knowledge now, but back when I got to the college level and went east, this is a conversation I probably had 100 times trying to explain to people that didn’t get how it could even be possible that I swam for a no-name club & considered it irrelevant.] The longtime/’rotation’ powerhouses aren’t small, private / swimmer-magnet schools, but rather all [very] well-to-do 2k+ suburban public schools. And on top of that, this unusually-HS-centric system also happens to be unusually tilted towards heavy, heavy taper-oriented swimming in the Chicago area, particularly for the [winter] boys season — HS dual meets and even large invites for 3.5-4 months are all basically irrelevant / dressed-up practices (drag suits, no caps), with [almost] everybody focused on breaking down to nothing and then stuffing all their eggs in the single basket that is ‘State’. Even for D1 scholarship -caliber swimmers that are forced to think about Nationals/etc., it’s the unquestioned pinnacle of the annual calendar.

So, yes, the author got it right in saying that the insanely high-pressure atmosphere coupled with the historic venues and incredibly raucous crowds makes it an unrivaled place to see a HS swimming meet twice a year. [I heavily preferred Evanston, all-around — the article doesn’t make it clear, but boys/girls split & alternate each year between Evanston/Trier.] I won’t get into extended detail about it, but suffice it to say that the attendance rituals/logistics/scale either match or one-up anything you all might’ve mentioned re: OH, with the only possible limitation being the size of the venues — they only fit about half the crowd the event could draw based purely on demand.

Having grown up swimming in a nearby HS pool almost identical in makeup (but still worse), it’s funny to hear the author note the pool’s supposed ‘shortcomings’ and the disparity with performance. There are some pretty storied programs in the area built off facilities much worse than this kind of pool, but the talent that they’ve produced quickly renders any jabs or criticisms moot. I have no idea if they’ve since upgraded, but OPRF & Naperville North in the late 90’s are the first to come to mind (I want to say the ’96 or ’97 OPRF boys team might’ve been national champs… might be confusing it with ’99 or ’00 Evanston boys team, though).

Before reading all the way through the comments, I was also surprised to not see Yale / the H-Y-P meet on there for the same reasoning/logic as IL HS State. Apparently it’s better-known than I thought, so I would mention that the only reason I know about it was because somebody once mentioned it to me during recruiting as an ‘sub-Evanston-like’ environment… True story. No offense to either the author or the armed services, but I still think that that should take precedence over bugles or a particular take on the national anthem.

3 years 4 months ago
PsychoDad
3 years 4 months ago

Related to Tyler Luebke?

3 years 4 months ago

Phil: Too bad the Univ. of Iowa Rec. Service Director and the Univ. of Iowa Aquatics Director play politics with the venue (and it’s access), had no problem violating USA-Swimming Code of Conduct rules in how they attacked my club when starting up their own, and are completely corrupt because other than some deck space issues and air quality problems (at large summer meets) it is a decent competition tank. I would place the UI pool on par with the pool @ Mizzou (less deck space / more seating at UI).

I would add King County Aquatic Center (WA.) and take Evanston off this list.

jman
3 years 4 months ago

you should do a feature on old-time pools of the past–top 10. I would assume Yale would be on there (maybe should have been on this list).

the beach
3 years 4 months ago

that would be a great idea. The old Beverly Hills High School pool–the one under the basketball court–would have to be on the list.

Lane Four
3 years 4 months ago

The old Belmont Plaza pool in Long Beach/Belmont Shore has got to be included on that list. At one time they called it the “Taj Mahal” of American pools. Besides national championships and NCAAs, it hosted the OTs in 1968 and 1976 as well as many international meets for swimming and water polo.

WWWT
3 years 4 months ago

I second the Yale pool suggestion. As a swimmer from Connecticut, I know firsthand that place has magic in the water. It’s an amazing facility, even if it is only a 6 lane, 25-yard pool.

Kirsten Fullerton
3 years 3 months ago

I also can’t figure out while Yale was left out. It’s pretty historic.

BaldingEagle
3 years 4 months ago

I swam Eastern Zones in 1989 at Yale, and it was DEAFENING in there, and that was a USA meet. The H-Y-P meet there must be just unreal. I’m surprised anyone leaves there without permanent hearing loss.

I wish I’d had a chance to see the Dallas Morning News meet at SMU back in the old SWC days: Texas, SMU, Houston… it must have been incredible.

Richard Henderson
3 years 4 months ago

A nice list. I’ve been to all except Athens and the Illinois pools. For me it’s Austin, first, last and always, the TAJ MAHAL OF SWIMMING POOLS.

DutchWomen
3 years 4 months ago

Hard to believe Texas built that pool in 1978. Few others have done it better since, and they’ve had almost 40 years to get it right.

Scott Waterman
3 years 4 months ago

How about a list of the top ten most interesting / quirky pools? The old Spieker Aquatics center at Cal would have to make the list for its often cold weather despite being outside, as well as its old locker rooms. The Mt. Hood Acquatics center is beautiful too, although some very cold early summer meets have been held there. If we take it international, the pools in Monaco (both the indoor one as well as the marina-side outdoor one) should certainly be included.

newswim
3 years 4 months ago

Quirky????I’d put the “new” Dartmouth pool on the list…nothing like a pool where you get get a “bridge” and a tunnel…..
Old time pool…..I also like CT Branin….once had a bunch of swimmers “complain” about the slow pool….brought them by to look at the record board and that pretty much changed their minds…..Joe “who”?

Swimmer
3 years 4 months ago

Good list but from a swimmers perspective who has swam at all of the top 5 pools, nothing is comparable to the Omaha trials pool. The atmosphere for that meet and the arena made for an unforgettable experience. The only reason I can see it not being #1 is because it isn’t a permanent fixture

SwimSam
3 years 4 months ago

Yup… love that Phelps first WR reference!

Chris
3 years 4 months ago

All great facilities. Cleveland State could be included. The site of the first sub 20 second 50 free and it is still one of the fastest pools in Ohio.

Kelly
3 years 4 months ago

It’s too bad the Walter Schroeder Aquatic Center in Suburban Milwaukee isn’t on this list, That is an amazing place to swim. Hopefully they will get more meets and events larger then all the age group events there! Built in the 70’s, it’s hosted National Champs a long time ago.

Joel Lin
3 years 4 months ago

Ah, Brown Deer, the scene of Madame Butterfly’s 2:05 WR that stood for about two decades. I had heard the pool was scheduled to be razed?

Kelly
3 years 4 months ago

It was. But they turned it into a non-profit several years ago. It’s still going just as strong.

Joel Lin
3 years 4 months ago

My heart sinks to not see Santa Clara, Mission Viejo or Yale on the list…unquestionably the most iconic pools in the USA.

Lane Four
3 years 4 months ago

Great catch, Joel.

aswimfan
3 years 4 months ago

I’ve never been to any of those pools, but as an international swim fan who often watched swim meets in the US, I second your opinion especially on Santa Clara (George Haines International Swim center).

It is surprising that Santa Clara does not make it top ten.

3 years 4 months ago

All of a sudden the pools I swim in are blatantly subpar and depressing.

Bcc
3 years 4 months ago

Yale should be on this list without question. It’s like swimming in the Roman Colliseum. Iupui is beat. At one time it was legit but it looks old and unkept.

Swim Coach Brandon
3 years 4 months ago

Thumbs up for Omaha with the 2012 Trials. First time I was there as a coach. Wow that was some event. I think about going back everyday at practice. Thumbs up as well for IUPUI. I was there for 2009 Nationals. Great event and wonderful pool.

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The most common question asked about Braden Keith is "when does he sleep?" That's because Braden has, in two years in the game, become one of the most prolific writers in swimming at a level that has earned him the nickname "the machine" in some circles. He first got his feet …

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