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August 11, 2008
by Ryan Hudson
At this rate, it's almost comical how often records are falling in the swimming events at the Beijing Games. It has become so routine that it's more surprising when an Olympic record (at the very least) is not broken, even during the heats. The most recent example came from last night's dramatic men's 4x100m freestyle final, when the U.S. shattered the old mark by more than three seconds.
At first glance, this might make sense, for a few reasons: these are the best athletes in the world, they've been training for four years (at least) and they have those new, NASA-designed suits, allowing them to glide through the water. But there is another major contributor to this assault on the record book, and it's right in front of you: the pool itself.
The "Water Cube," as it's most popularly known, is actually having a large impact on these games already.
"It's by far the fastest pool in the world," says Rowdy Gaines, an Olympic medalist and swimming commentator for Olympic broadcaster NBC.
"I'm talking about deep water," Gaines explains. "It's a perfect depth because if it's too deep, you lose your sense of vision and where you're at in the pool. But it's just deep enough to where the waves dissipate (and) the turbulence dissipates down to the bottom."
The Water Cube pool also has 10 lanes instead of eight. Waves churned up during races don't bounce back into the swimming lanes. Waves that reach the sides are siphoned off by perforated gutters.
The Water Cube pool is close to 10 feet deep. That's 3 feet deeper than the pools of the past. The lane lines that separate swimmers are called wave eaters because they dissipate turbulent water. The goal is to make the water as flat and clear as possible, despite the churning that swimmers create.
An indoor setting also helps [the pool in Athens in 2004 was outside], along with temperature, humidity and lighting control. Wide decks with seats sharply cascading back give swimmers an uncrowded sense of space. That can energize athletes, like American Dara Torres, who calls the pool "awesome."
Leave it to the Chinese-ingenuity to design the fastest pool ever.