Swimming is one of the world's most popular sports, and it is America's largest participatory sport. According to USA Swimming, the national governing body for the sport in the U.S., 76 percent of people swim 25 times or more each year. Annually, 96 million people take to the water. That means big business for swimming retailers, with $1.4 billion in swim suit sales each year. It also means that a vast array of swimming facilities have been built to accommodate America's wonder with playing in the water.
Swimming for All Ages
Swimming's popularity is strong across all age groups and regions, but, as with most competitive sports, a large number of swimming competitors fall in the youth age group. The National Federation of High School Associations reported that in 2007-2008 swimming and diving, also called aquatics, gained 5,158 participants, making it the third fastest growing participatory sport in high schools.
Organizations like the YMCA, the YWCA, USA Swimming and the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) host and sanction competitions, from local grassroots events to national events like the AAU Junior Olympics and National Championships, offering young people a vast variety of swimming opportunities.
While youth events dominate much of the swimming world, adults are definitely not to be forgotten. U.S. Masters Swimming (USMS) is the national governing body for adult swimming,which in the U.S. encompasses ages 18 to 100-plus. More than 48,000 members participate in the non-profit's organized workouts, competitions, clinics and workshops. USMS programs are open to all adult swimmers, including fitness, triathlete, competitive and non-competitive athletes.
To put it simply, America loves to swim. And America's cities and communities take that aquatic obsession very seriously, building hundreds of top-class natatoriums across the country to meet the needs of America's swimmers. For anyone planning a swimming event, the choices are nearly endless. Of course, more than just swimming can happen in a swimming facility, and a wide range of organizations plan, host and sanction an even wider variety of water sports, including synchronized swimming, finswimming and water polo.
No matter what the specific water sport, finding the right facility is at the core of organizing a successful event. Get started with a tour of some of America's finest swimming facilities, built to suit a variety of events from small to large, amateur to elite.
The Notable Natatorium
What makes the ideal facility for a pool event like swimming, diving or even water polo? It depends highly on the event itself, but a few specifications can help narrow down the field:
Location. The natatorium's location within the city or community and its proximity to transportation, hotels and restaurants can be very important to an event's success, depending on the type of event, its competitors and spectators. The city's appeal, convenience, and even weather, for cities with outdoor facilities, can be equally significant.
Size. Natatoriums range from small to large, both in terms of the pools themselves, the spectator spaces and additional amenities, such as warm up pools and locker rooms.
Design. This is where natatoriums really differentiate themselves. Depending on the competitive level of the event, facility features such as clear underwater lighting, which many coaches prefer to help swimmers go faster, and deep pools, gutters or wave breaking lanes to reduce turbulence, can be critical.
Technology. Also dependent on the level of competition, the sophistication of scoring technology can be a crucial consideration. Colorado Time Systems are considered one of the industry's leading timing technologies.
Swimming is popular nationwide, but in Bakersfield, California, it is positively an obsession. That's why the town, one of the fastest-growing large-population cities in the U.S., boasts three outdoor swimming facilities. Located in downtown Bakersfield, the McMurtrey Aquatic Center is a top-notch swimming, diving and recreational facility. The McMurtrey Center offers both a recreational pool and a heated Olympic size pool. The home of a number of high school swim and dive meets and training pool of several Olympic athletes, McMurtrey's Olympic pool has nine 25-yard lanes, nine 50-meter lanes and a pair of one- and three-meter diving boards.
Bakersfield's other two pools are located at local colleges, the Hillman Aquatics Center at California State University bakersfield and the William A. Wheeler Aquatic Center at Bakersfield College.
The practice and competition facility of CSU Bakersfield's 13-time NCAA Division II National Championship men's swimming team and host of the 1999 Speedo Junior Nationals, the Hillman Aquatics Center offers an outdoor facility that allows sports event owners to take advantage of Bakersfield's 300 days of sunshine. With two pools - a heated eight-lane, 50-meter competition pool and a heated six-lane, three-foot deep training pool - the complex also offers advanced timekeeping technology: an electronic scoreboard and Colorado timing system that provides immediate computerized results.
Another outdoor facility, the William H. Wheeler Aquatic Center has a 25 x 50-yard pool with up to 18 lanes available for competitions. Sports event owners contract with Bakersfield College to rent the facility at a per-lane cost, which can make smaller events more cost-effective.
Swimming facilities aren't Bakersfield's only economical feature. "We've got several great things going on in Bakersfield," says Don Cohen, executive director of the Bakersfield Convention and Visitors Bureau. "First is affordability. Our hotel rates can be 40 percent lower than those in L.A. and other major areas."
Convenience is another Bakersfield bonus. Located approximately four hours from 90 percent of the state's population, Bakersfield makes the ideal meeting place for California swimming and diving events.
In many cases, where you find a phenomenal swimming facility, you will also find a long tradition of swimming excellence. Such is the case in Canton, Ohio. The Canton/Stark County area is home to one of the Midwest's finest swimming facilities, the C.T. Branin Natatorium.
Built and donated by the Timken Corporation and named after Ted Branin, the swim coach who led Canton McKinley High School to 13 state championships from1928-1972, the facility has hosted a range of events, including the USA and Masters Swimming and Diving Championships, several NCAA and AAU championships, as well as various synchronized swimming and water polo championships. The facility offers newly renovated locker rooms, seating for 2,500 and a pool that can be converted from a short-course 25-yard format to Olympic 50 meter distance. There is also a 14-foot deep diving well with two one-meter boards and one three-meter board. Equipped with the latest facility updates and technology, such as wave breaker lanes, a Colorado timing system and new touch pads, C.T. Branin is one of Ohio's leading facilities.
But even with all that, what really makes the C.T. Branin Natatorium shine is the care it receives from the staff. The C. T. Branin Natatorium is operated by a competitive Masters age group diver.
"The leadership at C.T. Branin provides for a first class arena through and through," says Rob Steinberg, sports production manager at the Canton/Stark County Convention & Visitors' Bureau. "Because of the passion and expertise put into its maintenance and operation, C.T. Branin is continuously up to date."
Auburn University has won 12 Swimming & Diving National Championships, and it has a facility that is just as prestigious as its record. Three-time host of the U.S. Open and the SEC Swimming and Diving Championships as well as many other prominent swimming and diving events, Auburn's James E. Martin Aquatics Center was rated America's third-fastest pool by Sports Illustrated Magazine(the Indiana University Natatorium came in first and the University of Texas swimming facility second).
The pool's design is based on the 1996 Atlanta Olympics pool. The secret to its speed is a state-of-the-art gutter system that absorbs waves rather than reverberating them back into swimmers. Nine feet deep at its most shallow point and 16.5 feet deep beneath the diving apparatus, the pool features two one-meter springboards, two three-meter springboards and five platform levels (one, three, five, seven and a half and 10 meters). The Olympic size pool features two moveable bulkheads that allow for variable distance competition and simultaneous diving.
In addition to an exceptional competitive facility, Auburn has a location that draws many competitors and their families.
"We've found that athletes, parents, fans - everyone who follows someone in a sport - really like coming to a college town," says John Wild, president of the Auburn-Opelika Convention & Visitors Bureau. "We've got unique dining and shopping, campus tours, and extra amenities like free parking that you won't find in a big city."
State College, Pennsylvania
The McCoy Natatorium at Pennsylvania State University, or Penn State, combines a competition-quality facility with a recreational facility that serves the entire community of State College. Offering a wide range of classes and activities, the McCoy Natatorium features a shallow (3 1/2 - 5 foot) 25-meter pool with six lanes, used for instruction, recreation, therapy and lap swimming. The competition pool is a six-to-ten feet deep, six-lane, 25-yard pool designed for Penn State's swimming and diving teams and also used for water polo, scuba and synchronized swimming. The facility also has two 1-meter and two 3-meter springboards for diving competitions, as well as a summer-only Olympic size outdoor pool with four diving boards and 1- ,3- , 5- ,7.5- , and 10-meter diving platforms. Perhaps McCoy's most unique feature is AquaClimbing, a 3x3-meter climbing wall that angles over the pool so that climbers can land in the water.
McCoy has played host to its fair share of well-known competitions, too.The Pennsylvania YMCA takes advantage of McCoy's central location and impressive facilities every year for its state swim meet.
State College is also home to another aquatics facility, the State College Area YMCA, which hosts a number of tournaments as well. And they aren't stopping there. The city has seen tremendous growth in aquatics participation and is planning a new facility to accommodate that growth.
"The facility is still in the planning stages, but it will be Olympic size with facilities to accommodate more and larger tournaments," says Betsey Howell, executive director of the Central Pennsylvania Convention and Visitors Bureau. "We're looking forward to bringing in more regional and national events with a new facility."
One way to pinpoint some of America's best aquatics facilities is to follow the experts. USA Swimming's Grand Prix Series is a six-stop swim meet designed to provide elite swimmers with the opportunity to compete at a high level in preparation for the championship period of the season. In 2009, one of those stops was at the University of Missouri's Mizzou Aquatic Center.
With a 50-meter Olympic size pool and a movable floor, Mizzou provides the option of dividing the pool up to increase the number of lap lanes. The facility also features two 1-meter and two 3-meter springboards and 1- , 3- , 5- , 7.5- , and 10-meter diving platforms. Additional features include an 18-inch spill-over gutter system to minimize turbulence, a Colorado Time System and Display, seating for over 1,000 spectators, new team locker rooms, conference rooms and an operations center.
Dive on In
When it comes to facilities, planners of aquatics events have only one big problem: choosing. America's communities have built an exceptional selection of some of the world's finest swimming facilities, making it possible to find the perfect combination of location, size, design and technology to meet the needs of any event. The good news is that no matter where you are in the country, chances are an outstanding swimming facility is within reach. All you have to do is dive in.