Field of Play: Pan Am pool potential

Thursday, June 20, 2013

First you have to build it.

Then if it’s big enough and long enough, maybe you can find some great swimmers willing to take the plunge.

That’s the theory behind the evolving Pan American Games Aquatics Centre which is well underway at the University of Toronto’s Scarborough campus.

More than two years out from Toronto 2015, the giant-sized skeleton of the place looms on the horizon. Organizers who conducted a tour of the construction site proclaimed it will be finished next summer, fully a year ahead of the Games, and will come in under budget at about $205 million.

For the national team swimmers who joined the tour, it wasn’t just about dollars and cents. It was about the pre-eminent field of play for their sport that has existed to date in this country. It was about wide-eyed astonishment at the prospect of some of the best swimming pools in the world coming to their neighbourhood.

“This will be huge for the whole province and the whole country,” said Brittany MacLean, a 19-year-old who made the 400-metre freestyle final at the London 2012 Olympics.

MacLean currently trains at the Etobicoke Olympium, one of only two 50M pools in the city of Toronto.

“But then again, it’s under renovation,” she added.

Nowhere like it

The only other 50M or “Olympic size,” pool is at the downtown campus of the University of Toronto, where Blake Worsley has migrated from his native Victoria, B.C. to train ahead of this summer’s World Aquatic championships in Barcelona, Spain.

“When this gets done there won’t be anywhere in the country like it,” Worlsey marveled. “It means we have a bright future and that Canada has made an investment in its swimmers. The more people you get into swimming the better your chances.”

Indeed, the impressive structure is destined to become an aquatics Mecca for the whole nation. It will feature not one, but two 50M pools, each with ten competitive lanes. There will also be a full diving tank. That makes it bigger in terms of playing surface than the aquatics centre at the London Olympics.

All this and the pre-fabricated basins built by Myrtha Pools in Italy will hold four million litres of water. It will be one of the largest aquatic facilities under one roof on the face of the earth.

“More water space means more kids,” figured Byron MacDonald, the University of Toronto swim coach. MacDonald competed at the 1972 Olympics in Munich against the legendary Mark Spitz and is an award winning analyst with CBC Sports.

“There will be more chances to find the diamond in the rough,” he continued. “We will now have a hub for Ontario athletes to train and thus a hothouse environment for swimming. I trust that this will become like a magnet for competitive swimmers.”

‘A leader in summer sport’

Debbie Low is the CEO of the Canadian Sport Institute Ontario which will eventually be housed in the Pan American Games Aquatic Centre. It turns out, there’s a more grandiose vision for this structure than simply as a swimming and diving arena for the 2015 Games.

“It’s an opportunity for Ontario and Canada to become a leader in summer sport,” Low said.

She pointed to the field house being erected alongside the swimming pools. It will accommodate four gymnasiums, a bio-mechanics lab, a sports nutrition lab, an altitude chamber and rehabilitation centre.

The 25-thousand square feet which will comprise the Canadian Sport Institute Ontario will also become home to the national wheelchair basketball team and a permanent centre for Canadian Paralympic excellence.

“It’s long overdue,” said Low, who’s been working on this concept since the early days of Toronto’s bid for the 2008 Olympics, or more than 15 years. “We’ll finally be on a level playing field with the rest of the athletes in the world.”

Indeed, as the large group of media and athlete’s toured the enormous venue, there was an overwhelming feeling that this is proof positive that Canada’s most populace province is finally getting serious about high performance sport.

“We have more than 40 per cent of the country’s population in this province,” Low estimated. “If Ontario’s not a leader in sport, then we fall behind as a country.

“We owe it to our athletes to give them every chance to succeed.”

The aquatics centre under construction for TO2015 is a revelation for those who follow sport in this part of Canada. Its sheer size and scope are eye-catching. It trumpets once and for all that the Pan American Games are rapidly approaching.

More importantly, it’s a state of the art facility for one of the world’s most practiced sports.

And it aims to deliver what all great venues should - namely, potential.

The hope is that because of this place there will be a depth of international talent emerging from a swimming pool in our own backyard.

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