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State-of-the art Olympic pool like nothing UK has seen takes centre stage at London Olympics

08/01/2012 08:07 EDT | Updated 10/01/2012 05:12 EDT
LONDON - From the outside, it's a flying saucer with wings. And inside, the underbelly of a whale.

Or perhaps even a stingray, if you ask the man who oversaw its construction.

Whether spacecraft or sea creature, esthetically speaking, the Olympic Aquatics Centre is like nothing England has ever seen for its elite swimmers and divers.

Even the Olympic dive boards were designed in an aqua state of mind. They resemble the tail of a whale moments before it lifts from the water.

This $475 million venue features something revolutionary and new, too: pools with multiple changing depths thanks to an array of moving floors. After the London Games, the spectacular facility might be simultaneously used for elite training in the 50-meter pool and children's swim lessons mere feet away in the 25-meter diving area that has been adjusted to a shorter depth.

Four-time Olympian Peter Waterfield, partner of British teen sensation Tom Daley, left London more than a decade ago and headed south to Southampton to train at better facilities. But others won't be forced to follow suit.

That's the hope, anyway.

Soon — in legacy mode, as it's referred — even the British beginners also will be able to try out the Olympic pool.

"The feedback from the athletes, they feel like it's a fast pool," said project director Ian Crockford. "The look of the building is good. The coaches really like it, so I think we've done well. It's a tremendous atmosphere."

With Daley the face of the future and a top-notch venue now available to the masses, Britain's diving program hopes it can further take off. Even after Daley and Waterfield finished a disappointing fourth in the men's 10-meter synchronized platform Monday.

"It's great for Tom and it's great for our sport because it's raising the profile," Waterfield said of Daley's influence. "When we're outside of the pool, the younger ones tend to hang around together and I certainly don't want to cramp Tom's style. You know, he's a good looking lad and I'm sure he's got loads of girls after him, so he won't want me stand there next to him."

The plan is that by Christmas Day 2013, the Olympic pool will open to the public. Those who hope to use it won't have to empty their pocketbooks, either. The cost isn't expected to be any more than it would be at other pools around the city — some 5 British pounds, or just less than $8.

"What we've done here is looked at what we needed for the future for a really good quality community pool, and said what we needed for London here," Crockford said. "We've got this pool that's very flexible with a lot of moving floors and booms to make it very adaptable for a future operation. So, you can have elite swimming on one side and you can have learn-to-swim with children on the other side."

For example, the floor of the dive pool — typically kept at 5 metres deep, or approximately 16 1/2 feet — can change depths to as shallow as about three feet, or the water can be brought to the very surface if necessary. And when the pool's depth is moved up, the stairs to the dive boards are immediately closed off with an automatic, interlocking swing door as a safety measure to ensure nobody can accidentally dive into shallow water.

U.S. athletes trained at the City of Sheffield Diving Club about 250 kilometres (150 miles) away leading up to the games.

"The pool is amazing," said American Kelci Bryant, who teamed with Abigail Johnston to win silver in the women's 3-meter synchronized Sunday. "We dove here in February for World Cup, so it was nice to come back to someplace familiar. I think you take any diver and you take anyone who wants to do it bad enough and they'll make it work no matter where they are.

"This is such a great start, and it showed with England getting more divers into the sport. England has great divers, and they make it work no matter what pool they're in."

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