The secrets of the fastest swimming pools in the world

The Secrets of the Fastest Swimming Pools in the World

Olympic swimming pools have different characteristics from those where we mere mortals dive, to allow athletes to swim as fast as possible.
Olympic swimming pools have different characteristics from those where we mere mortals dive, to allow athletes to swim as fast as possible.

When victory is played on a tightrope and every hundredth of a second makes a difference, engineering goes to the aid of the legs and arms of swimmers: these are the secrets of the fastest swimming pools in the world, built with particular attention to detail and with some characteristics different from the colleagues of hotels and private homes.

Georgia Tech’s McAuley Aquatic Facility, where the Olympic champions challenged each other 25 years ago, is still today one of the fastest swimming pools in the world: “There are three main reasons why Georgia Tech still holds the record after a quarter of a century”, says Jud Ready, a professor at the School of Materials Science and Engineering . “Two are at the bottom of the pool, the other on either side.”

A MATTER OF ENGINEERING

The first reason is the depth : the Georgia Tech pool, like the one where the Tokyo Olympics were held, is three meters deep. If it were lower, the energy of the wave created by the swimmers in the opening dive would bounce off the bottom and reach the opponents, slowing them down.

The second reason is the position of the return jets (through which the filtered water passes and re-enters the pool): in normal pools they are placed on the side, while in Olympic ones they are on the bottom. This is because recirculating millions of liters of water every four hours would create a very powerful current that would favor or hinder swimmers. In this way the water re-enters the tank and spreads without creating currents, thanks to the rosettes that “break” the outgoing jet.

The third and final reason is the structure of the overflow system , the one that collects the water that comes out of the pool with the dives and the movement of the swimmers, which has channels that are wider and deeper than normal: “When swimmers generate waves hitting the sides of the pool, the large grids collect and retain the water, ”explains Ready, stressing that otherwise the water would bounce and return to the pool, slowing the athletes down.

TEMPERATURE AND TECHNOLOGICAL DOPING

In addition to these three main technical aspects, there are other less visible but equally important details that allow swimmers to move very fast: first of all the water temperature, colder than normal (25 ° C) to reduce muscle fatigue; another important aspect in which technology also comes into play are the swimmers’ swimsuits, designed to create as little friction as possible with the water, but without benefiting them too much: during the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games a curious controversy arose when they were introduced polyurethane swimsuits, which allowed swimmers to float better and reduced friction with water. Many speed records were broken that year thanks to the incredible technology of the super-costumes,That’s why swimmers in Tokyo only wore nylon and spandex suits.

Bruce Dorminey
I'm a science journalist and host of Cosmic Controversy (brucedorminey.podbean.com) as well as author of "Distant Wanderers: the Search for Planets Beyond the Solar System."  I primarily cover aerospace and astronomy. I’m a former Hong Kong bureau chief for Aviation Week & Space Technology magazine and former Paris-based technology correspondent for the Financial Times newspaper who has reported from six continents. A 1998 winner in the Royal Aeronautical Society's Aerospace Journalist of the Year Awards (AJOYA), I’ve interviewed Nobel Prize winners and written about everything from potato blight to dark energy. Previously, I was a film and arts correspondent in New York and Europe, primarily for newspaper outlets like the International Herald Tribune, the Boston Globe and Canada's Globe & Mail. Recently, I've contributed to Scientific American.com, Nature News, Physics World, and Yale Environment 360.com. I'm a current contributor to Astronomy and Sky & Telescope and a correspondent for Renewable Energy World. Twitter @bdorminey