Fast Times Fast Pools

By Anderson, Chris | Sarasota Herald Tribune, June 7, 2013 | Go to article overview

Fast Times Fast Pools


Anderson, Chris, Sarasota Herald Tribune


In a sport where milliseconds matter, design can help a good swimmer be a record-breaker

Altitude and dimension affect hitting in baseball stadiums. Temperature factors into ice skating rinks, and surface type plays a role in sports where running is the predominant action.

But what about swimming pools? Since the physical properties of water can't be altered, what makes a pool fast and conducive to high- caliber times and shattered records?

More than 1,500 athletes are currently swimming in the 2013 Pan- American Masters Championship in Sarasota, the most competitive among them trying to win medals and set records at the Selby Aquatic Center. Undoubtedly the high-level swimmers will note the characteristics of the pool. In a sport where 1/100th of a second is significant, everything matters.

"What makes a pool fast is the depth of the pool, the gutter system and the starting blocks," said Rick Walker, Masters coach for the Sarasota YMCA Sharks. "We think we've got a pretty fast pool here."

For the fastest times possible, swimmers need the smoothest water possible and water depth impacts the amount of turbulence on the surface. The consensus in recent years has been the deeper the better. In the 2008 Beijing Olympics, for example, the water was 10 feet deep uniformly, the deepest an Olympics pool had been to that point. The Selby pool is 5 to 12 feet deep.

"The one drawback in this particular pool is it's too shallow," said 80-year-old Burwell Jones, who swam in the 1952 Helsinki Olympics. "The deeper the better because any wave action goes down and bounces off the bottom. "With this shallow of a pool, you get eight good swimmers kicking at the same time and you're going to get a lot of wave motion up and down."

The Selby pool was designed and constructed by Myrtha Pools USA, which is based in Sarasota. President and chief executive Kevin McGrath said recent research by the company suggests a deep pool may not be the most ideal.

"A lot of people used to say the deeper the pool the faster it is but we're not sure it's the answer," he said.

Fastest pool

McGrath said his company's research is pointing toward an ideal depth of 6feet, 6 inches.

Myrtha has a large research and development team that studies such things, and McGrath said there are multimillion-dollar computers used for "computational fluid dynamics," or the movement of water.

"There are very complicated physics principles," McGrath said. "Can it get quicker? We think so. We're not sure, but as material science improves and with our research I think we'll see ways of improving." McGrath said that 94 percent of the world swimming records set in the last decade happened in Myrtha pools.

"I know most of the high level swimmers ... and I don't know if it's a mental thing, but we consistently hear when it is a Myrtha pool it's just faster," McGrath said. "We believe high-level swimmers can tell the difference."

The gutter system and the intake and recirculation system are crucial in competitive pools, and the width of the pool can also cut down turbulence. …

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