By Tito Morales
LONG BEACH, July 7. AS you stand atop the highest bleacher at the Charter All Digital Aquatic Centre in Long Beach, California and gaze west at the shimmering Pacific Ocean, it’s only natural to reflect upon how far competitive swimming has come since the sport made its Olympic Games debut 108 years ago.
The first Olympics swimming competition was conducted in the Bay of Zea off the coast of Greece. The athletes, all male, were ferried out by boat, coaxed overboard into choppy and frigid 55 degree water, and instructed to race toward shore. Floating hollow pumpkins were used to mark the way. Unfortunately, though, heavy waves swept the not-so-ingenious buoys, and disoriented swimmers, in all directions.
Subsequent Olympic competitions were staged in heavily polluted rivers, lakes and canals. It wasn’t until the London Olympics in 1908, in fact, that the athletes competed in what would now be known as a “swimming pool” — a mammoth 100 meter long affair. And it wasn’t until four years later, in Stockholm, that women were first allowed to compete.
My, how times have changed. Both literally and figuratively.
It took the champion of the 100 meters competition in Athens roughly 1:22 to struggle ashore. On June 25, 2004, Oregon’s Taylor Scroggy covered the same distance in 1:05.83; it’s the fastest U.S. time of the year so far in the girls 10 & under age group.
Over time, technique has vastly improved, the pools have become much more swimmer-friendly, the prominence of the sport has risen, and the athletes, in turn, have clocked faster and faster performances.
Which leads back to the technological marvel which has miraculously appeared — almost like E.T.’s spacecraft — onto this inconspicuous parking lot. The pool below sparkles like the rarest of gemstones, and the very last thing the several hundred swimmers who are converging upon Long Beach will have to worry about during the course of the U.S. Olympic Team Trials is conditions.
The water temperature and clarity will be carefully monitored, the wave action will be minimal, and there won’t be a pumpkin in sight. This facility, from its inception, has been carefully crafted using state-of-the-art science which is specifically designed to produce the very best times possible.
It was a stroke of brilliance, really, to construct this venue against such a dynamic backdrop. Water is the overriding theme everywhere you look here — from the facility’s close proximity to the ocean, to the nearby Aquarium of the Pacific and Queen Mary ocean liner, to acclaimed marine artist Wyland’s immense whale mural on the façade of the Long Beach Arena.
But soon, very soon, the main attraction will be the turquoise-glowing pool and the history which will be written there.
It’s not a question of whether records will fall in the coming days. It’s more an issue of how many, and which ones.
The Trials, at long last, have arrived.
Let the good times roll…