AQUATICS EPICENTER: Charter All Digital Aquatic Centre – 2004 Long Beach Aquatic Festival, including Toyota Aquatics Grand Prix Series

By Matt Paulson

1.4 million gallons of water.

115,000 spectators sitting up to 73 feet above the ground over a period of six weeks.

10,000 pieces of hardware that traveled more than 6,000 miles in five, 40-foot contatiners.

1,400 volunteers.

Five major aquatic events.

Two 50-meter Olympic-sized pools.

ONE PLACE: the Charter All Digital Aquatic Centre in Long Beach, Calif.

The inaugural FINA Water Polo World League Women’s World League Super Finals are drawing towards their final conclusion on Sunday, June these portable pools. The third edition of Men’s World League Super Finals will be played July 16-18th also in Long Beach.

The Toyota Aquatics Grand Prix is comprised of five marquis events: the Janet Evans Invitational (June 10-13), the FINA Women’s Water Polo World League Super Final, presented by the Port of Long Beach (June 23-27), USA vs. Australia Men’s Water Polo FINA World League Game (June 30-July 1), the FINA Men’s Water Polo World League Superfinal (July 16-18), and the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Swimming (July 7-14).

Together these championships comprise the largest aquatic event in North American history. The entire extravaganza has been named the 2004 Long Beach Aquatic Festival. For the first time in U.S. Olympic Team Trials – Swimming history, swimmers will compete for Olympic berths in an above-ground pool.

With so much new ground being forged, the venue to host events of such an unprecedented magnitude must be equally as magnificent. Long Beach has answered the call.

“We are pleased to have our event make history and to be a part of such an innovative concept,” said Rich Foster, president of the Long Beach Sports Council and USA Water Polo. “I grew up in Long Beach. I work in downtown Long Beach. I’ve seen World Championships, international swimming events and water polo events for the last 15 years. We really haven’t had anything in the United States like this before and I thought, ‘we’ve just got to have something on home soil that athletes will remember forever.”

Foster and the Long Beach Sports Council contracted Myrtha Pools of Italy to build two 50-meter Olympic-sized pools in the parking lot adjacent to the Long Beach Arena. Myrtha has constructed pools in more than 60 countries throughout the world and in a variety of climates and environmental conditions. Myrtha Pools shipped more than 150 panels and 10,000 pieces of hardware more than 6,000 miles from its headquarters in Castiglione, Italy to Long Beach aboard “The Cielo Di San Francisco.” Myrtha is also currently building the pools which be used in the 2005 Swimming World Championships in Montreal. Ironically it was Long Beach that also bid for the 2005 FINA World Championships, but lost to Montreal by the closest of margins, an 11-10 vote.

The Janet Evans Invitational was the “test event” for the Olympic Trials and the first to be held in the Charter All Digital Aquatic Center. Construction took about a month – and cost nearly $3.5 million. The two pools – one for competition and one for practice sessions – measure 50 meters long by 25 yards wide and 6.83 feet deep. With the help of the Long Beach Fire Department, it is estimated to have taken 8-9 hours to fill the competition pool. The deck and water line of the pools begin at 9 feet above the parking lot surface. Spectator seating in the 10,000-capacity stadium begin at 13 feet above the ground and reach seemingly into the Long Beach skyline at 73 feet above the ground, a feat accomplished with the help of bleachers used for the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach auto race. Stands from the race site were disassembled and transplanted on the pool site to help create the stadium atmosphere.

Upon completion of the events, the pools will be disassembled and shipped to their permanent owners: the city of Yucaipa in inland Southern California and the Berkeley Aquatic Club in Berkeley Heights, New Jersey. The practice pool will be placed in a brand new facility, enabling the Berkeley Aquatic Club to consolidate under one roof the three separate facilities that currently house their training sites.

No matter their final destination, the pools are already setting new standards in the events for which they were built. The FINA Men’s Water Polo World League Super Final, which takes next month has already sold $60,000 in advanced ticket sales, Foster said.

“Before this event, water polo has always been a walk-up event,” he said. “We’ve never had advanced sales before.”

And Long Beach may never be the same. With the total attendance over the six weeks estimated to be 115,000, the city of Long Beach expects an economic impact of $15 million, which may be a conservative estimate, according to Foster.

“I think it’s about time that the epicenter of aquatic sports has an event of this magnitude,” said Beth White, Chief Operating Officer of the 2004 Long Beach Aquatic Festival. “By the end of this summer, everyone will know where Long Beach is, and wish they were there for these events.”

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