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You can’t have a world-class olympic competition in just any old pool. The Summer Olympics in Tokyo this year will be a spectacle. Thanks to past superstars like 22-time medalist Michael Phelps, one of the most watched sports that year will likely be the 34 swimming events taking place that year. Undoubtedly, one record or…
The Summer Olympics in Tokyo this year will be a spectacle. Thanks to past superstars like 22-time medalist Michael Phelps, one of the most watched sports that year will likely be the 34 swimming events taking place that year. Undoubtedly, one record or another will be broken, but as participants are sweating over tenths and hundredths of a second, it does raise the question: what exactly is an Olympic swimming pool? What makes them so exact that such tiny fractions of a second actually count for something?
To begin with, the standards for an Olympic-size swimming pool are defined by FINA, the Fédération Internationale de Natation or International Swimming Federation, which was founded in 1908 and is now based in Lausanne, Switzerland.
FINA doesn’t mess around when it comes to establishing exacting standards. An Olympic pool measures 50 meters in length by 25 meters in width, or 164 feet 1 inches by 82 feet 0 inches. The tolerances for those measurements are extremely tight. A pool may absolutely not be smaller than those dimensions, but it can be 0.03 meters (1.18 inches) shorter, and each lane can be as much as 0.03 meters (1.18 inches) narrower than the specifications.
When touch panels are installed for the purposes of making exact time measurements (the panel that a swimmer smacks at each end of the pool to record the time they finished a given lap), the length between panels has to follow the above tolerances. So modern Olympic pools are a smidge longer to accommodate those panels.
There is a lot more flexibility with the depth of Olympic pools: they have to be a minimum of 2 meters (6 feet 6.74 inches) deep, but a depth of as much as 3 meters is recommended. A 2 meter deep Olympic pool will hold 660,000 gallons of water, or 88,000 cubic feet.
Olympic-size swimming pool are approximately 50 m or 164 feet in length, 25 m or 82 feet in width, and 2 m or 6 feet in depth. These measurements create a surface area of 13,454.72 square feet and a volume of 88,263 cubic feet. The pool has 660,253.09 gallons of water, which equals about 5,511,556 lbs.
During a swimming competition, each athlete is assigned to a marked lane. An Olympic-size swimming pool features eight lanes with two outside lanes used as a buffer zone. Each lane measures 2.5 m wide and is marked by a rope and buoys on top of the water and a lane line painted on the bottom. The lane lines end 2 m before the end wall of the pool as an indicator to the swimmer.
Other measurements, indicators, ropes and lines are used to track events. The false start rope, for example, is used to indicate a false start to the swimmers. The rope is placed 5 m from the start line and suspends across the pool about 1.2 m above the surface. The backstroke turn indicator is a flagged rope used by the swimmers to indicate the end of the lane. The rope is placed 1.8 m above the surface and 5 m from the start line.
Believe it or not, the above is actually a simplified run down of the specifications for Olympic-sized pools. The length and width are supposed to be defined at a specific depth below the surface of the pool, and even the color scheme and numbering of lanes (0 to 9, not 1 to 10) is defined.
But, it’s understandable to want such exact measurements, right? If a swimmer breaks a record, they should break it because they were the fastest, and not because someone was lazy with a measuring tape.
The next time you see a swimming competition, take a moment to appreciate not just the swimmers, but the amount of work that went into the swimming pool in which they’re competing.