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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.