Before bidding to host the 2008 Olympic Trials for swimming, a city would have to have an Olympic-sized pool, right? And by Olympic-sized, I mean 50 meters long and many lanes wide, not those 25-yard pools that hotels and health clubs often refer to as "Olympic sized."
Wrong. Omaha, Nebraska, didn't have such a pool until May, when organizers began transforming the city's Qwest Center, a 17,000-seat arena that opened in September 2003, into an aquatics venue by assembling a temporary above-ground pool on the arena floor.
How cool is that?
Made by Myrtha Pools of Italy, the competition pool is 50 meters long, 25m wide, 3m deep, 10 lanes across, and buries nine rows of seats, reducing the arena's seating capacity from 17,000 to 14,000. The pool walls are stainless steel panels that sit atop a temporary concrete platform that's covered in sand. "It has that mushy feeling, not like a cement bottom," said Amanda Kettle, who's lifeguarding at trials and swam in the pool after it first opened.
A similar warm-up pool was built in the attached convention center.
Pool assembly began May 19-the day after a professional wrestling event was held at the arena-and construction was finished before June 5, when the Qwest Center hosted the Swimvitational, a test event before trials. Trials end July 6, and both pools must be disassembled before Tom Petty plays in concert at the arena on July 20.
The Omaha Fire Department filled both pools-each with just under a million gallons of water. After her dip in the pool, Kettle said the water was freezing-about "the same temperature as the North Sea in England," Trevor Tiffany, president of Myrtha Pools USA, told the Omaha World-Herald. By trials, the competition pool should be 80 degrees.
Although 2004 Olympic Trials were held in a Myrtha temporary pool-the company's first temporary pool-in Long Beach, Calif., it was constructed outdoors. The fact that organizers in Omaha could transform an indoor facility in a short amount of time, it's hard not to say, Wow.
"I didn't know you could do such a thing," James Meyers said. He's an American Red Cross official who is organizing the lifeguards for trials. "The whole goal was to make these pools look permanent."
Do they? I asked.
"They do," he said. "When you walk in (to the arena), they really look like they've always been there."
As long as they don't spring a leak ...
Peggy Shinn is a freelance contributor for teamusa.org. This blog was not subject to the approval of the United States Olympic Committee or any National Governing Bodies.