40 Pools

Celebrating a Big Birthday with 40 Swims

#66: Sydney Olympic Park Aquatic Centre

on January 1, 2014
Location: Olympic Park, Homebush, NSW, Australia

Configuration: 10 lanes x 50 meters in competition pool

Fee: AUD7

After 65 pools, I finally got to swim in one that hosted the Olympics! The Sydney Olympic Park Aquatic Centre complex is absolutely massive, the equivalent of putting my favorite Icelandic pool facility all under one roof. Other similarities with Laugardalslaug include a water slide, play pools, hot tubs, and a second lap pool. We focused on the competition pool, following in the strokes of greatness in the fast lane.

Before I get to the pool, though, I want to direct your attention to the true highlight: the Dive into History exhibit. We almost didn’t even see this due to its location, and I wish we’d visited here before swimming because it greatly heightened my appreciation for the pool. If your time is limited, I would go so far as to recommend visiting the exhibit in lieu of the pool.

Starting with the building of the pool and Sydney’s Olympic bid, the exhibit then covers many of the great swims and events that have taken place in the competition pool. Some things I learned:

  • The facility opened in 1994, before Sydney had secured the 2000 Olympics, and was a key factor in the awarding of the bid.
  • The competition pool, where I swam, hosted not just swimming and diving but also polo and synchronized swimming at the Olympics.
  • It’s catching up to the North Sydney Olympic Pool for records broken, boasting more than 40 world records in its waters by 2008.
  • Features that make it such a fast pool include a “wet deck” or infinity gutter system and “wave eating” lane ropes to minimize turbulence, ozone filtration and UV light-treated water to make it clear and give it a “slippery” feel, and start blocks with a raised footrest.
  • Running the Olympic aquatic events smoothly required a staff of almost 2,400.
  • Design considerations for energy efficiency include maximizing the use of natural light and localized air conditioning in the stands.
  • The seating area was built out during the Olympics to add capacity and subsequently removed after the Games.
  • Loads of large-scale international events have taken place here since, including fun-sounding Qantas Skin Meets with elimination events and a “mystery” medley and the 2002 Gay Games, which TNYA participated in.
  • My hands are considerably smaller than Michael Phelps’s and perfectly match those of Aussie butterflyer Susie O’Neill.
  • The facility is extremely popular, notching more than a million visitors on average each year.
competition pooltraining pool and play area life in the fast laneDive into History exhibition me vs. Michael Phelps Australia wins!
Another highlight after my fast-lane swim was alighting the Olympic podium at the end of the exhibition. Jo and Frankie had given me an Aussie flag towel, which seemed the perfect accessory for the occasion.

So, how was my swim? Pool-wise, I’d have to rate this as my least favorite in this country so far. It was busier than others we’ve visited, and some of the other swim tourists had a much less developed sense of pool etiquette than my own. I felt a bit like a New Yorker trying to speed walk through a crowded Times Square. The energy-efficient lighting was less than inspiring–the ceiling would have benefited from more clear sections à la Ian Thorpe Aquatic Centre–and the bottom of the pool was getting discolored in spots.

The water playgrounds were extremely popular with families, so by the time of our visit late in the day the change rooms were pretty much a wreck, rivaling even Baruch‘s for grossness. As seems to be the norm in this country, you have to pay extra for a locker, and pool toys such as pull buoys and kickboards are nowhere to be found.

To get here, we took a long ferry ride west from the city center, meandering into coves and bays for stops along the way. I highly recommend this journey, both for the changing views of the famed Harbour Bridge and Opera House and to gain more appreciation for Sydneysiders’ relationship with the water. Every single building seems to be positioned to maximize water views. In look and feel, it reminded me a bit of Lake Austin, but with much more public access.

My gripes about the pool are all quite minor and a happy side effect of the fabulous other places we’ve swum. It is truly a thrill to swim in Olympic waters, and my cap is off to the designers’ foresight in creating a thriving community facility that endures long after the Games.

4 responses to “#66: Sydney Olympic Park Aquatic Centre

  1. […] at the Olympic Park pool, the exhibit here was a bit hidden away, in this case in a corridor behind the change rooms, and is […]

  2. […] and chlorinated (no salt), and the natural light much more abundant than at the similarly ginormous Sydney Olympic Park Aquatic Centre. Frankie settled in to knock off another set of 40 x 100s, but I swam less given my delayed start […]

  3. […] was very excited to take in these waters, my second Olympic pool experience. (The first was in Sydney.) Though the weather was dreary, anticipation built as we wandered through the Olympic complex, the […]

  4. […] by posts covering the pools from the Sydney and Montreal Olympic Games, pool tourism comrade Lisa Lisa petitioned for a guest spot to cover […]

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