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Swim records tumbling in fast Pan Am pool

07/16/2015 10:45 EDT | Updated 07/16/2016 05:59 EDT
American swimmer Kelsi Worrell sent a message around the world on Thursday morning at the Pan Am Games that contained two stanzas:

1. She's ready to take her place among the world's top 100m butterfly athletes and,

2. This new pool at the Toronto Pan Am Swim Centre, in northeast Scarborough, is fast, fast, fast.

Worrell's 57.24 was third quickest anywhere this year, according to stats kept by swimvortex.com, behind Sarah Sjostrom's 56.04 at Rome, and Jeanette Ottesen's 57.14 in Sweden.

Eight hours later in the night session, Brazil's Brandonn Almeida, 18, broke the world junior mark in the 400m individual medley (4:14.47) in one of two races that saw the gold-medal winner disqualified for "non-simultaneous touching of the wall" on the breaststroke leg.

Overall, 19 Pan Am records have fallen with two meet days still to come, and for the home side there have been three Canadian marks drop. 

The reason is both complicated from a physics standpoint and simple in its application: fast waters run deep and still.

"This pool is three metres deep, and only a few pools in the world are this deep," says Byron MacDonald, former Olympian, long-time coach, and part of the team that designed the pool. "That was number one on the agenda.

"Two, the lanes are 2.5 metres wide (wider than the old days, and now a common occurrence)."

Designed for speed

It all comes down to cutting turbulence that, like trying to swim in the wake of a boat, can slow you down. 

MacDonald, a CBC swim commentator for 30 years, says the original idea was to make the Toronto Pan Am pool a metre shallower. 

"We worked very hard to get the three metres. A lot of people felt 'What's the difference between two metres and three metres — a lot of pools in the world are two metres deep, like the Montreal Olympic pool."

This was not a small decision, as digging down an extra metre for a 50x25m pool costs a lot more money. Both pools here are at that depth, though the 50m warmup facility next door can also be adjusted at one end to almost any shallowness.

Another key is officials made the pool 10 lanes, so with an empty spot on both sides (eight swimmers in finals), it also helps damp down turbulence. 

Chasing the camera

The features give Toronto a chance to build its reputation around the world as an aquatics hub, and make the swimmers happy, to boot.

"It's very fast. Very fast," said Canada's Santo Condorelli, who won his third medal of the week on Thursday, a bronze in the 100m butterfly. "It's just the way you feel … you're right on top of the water. You are feeling no wake."

Noemie Thomas, Canadian silver medallist behind Worrell, said she knew "at the national trials here a couple of months ago, but adding an international element to it, with the stands and the decorations makes it even faster."

Thomas is also a realist, however, and adds "at the end of the day, it boils down to your preparation and confidence in yourself. You can be in any pool."

Other items MacDonald points to are good lighting and a good crowd (so many swimmers mentioned this week that when the crowd goes nuts they go faster), but it still comes down to the depth. 

And perhaps one other thing he hadn't thought of.

Worrell, who has all the makings of a major star moving through Rio 2016 and then on to Tokyo, had her own theory.

"There's a cool camera on the bottom [that moves remotely], and you try to chase the camera, so that makes it a little more fun"

Somebody tell the operator to make it go even faster. 

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