Did you know that swimming has been part of the modern Olympics since the very first event in 1896? Since then, only four of the original sports have survived to the games we see today; athletics, fencing, artistic gymnastics and, you guessed it, swimming!
Modern-day Olympic-sized swimming pools have a strict set of measurements they need to adhere to, to be recognized by FINA (Fédération Internationale de Natation). An Olympic swimming pool should measure 50m long, 25m wide, and at least 2 meters deep. This translates to a volume of 2,500,000 liters of water; or 660,430 US liquid gallons .
|Length||Width||Depth||Temperature||No. of Lanes|
|50 meters||25 meters||2 meters||25-28 °C||10|
Have Olympic Swimming Pools Always Been 50 meters?
The history of Olympic swimming is a rich one and in the very first modern Olympics in 1896 the competitions were held in open water, in the Mediterranean Sea. It was not until 1908 that Olympic swimming got its first pool. Organizers of the London Olympics built a swimming pool that was 100 meters long and had it right in the middle of the athletics running track (source).
The 1924 games in Paris set the standard for what we see today when they used the first pool that was 50 meters long and 25 meters wide (source).
How Deep Is An Olympic Pool?
While there are many 50-meter pools out there, there is more than just the length to consider in what makes an official Olympic pool according to FINA. One of those other attributes is depth. Olympic pools must be a minimum of 2 meters deep The reason for this is that it reduces the water disturbance which can affect the swimmers.(source)
As all the swimmers dive into the pool and begin swimming as hard as possible, there is a lot of energy being transferred into the water. If the pool is too shallow then that energy would bounce off the bottom of the pool and disturb the athletes. In fact, organizers for the pool in Tokyo 2020 took this so seriously that they make their pool 50% deeper than the FINA minimum requirement, at 3 meters deep.
Are Olympic Pools Cold?
You might think that, given the size, an Olympic swimming pool would be cold but FINA has tight regulations governing the temperature of Olympic swimming pools. All Olympic swimming pools must fall between the parameters of 25-28 °C . The reason for this is that temperature can significantly affect performance.(source)
In 1952 the Olympic games were held in Helsinki, with temperatures ranging from 13.1°C to 19.8°C in the month of August this would have a major impact on swimmers. Given that Olympic records should be directly comparable from year to year, it stands to reason that water temperatures should be similar for all competitions.
How Many Lanes Does An Olympic Pool Have?
All Olympic swimming pools now need to have 10 lanes and each lane has to be a minimum of 2.5m wide, with the outside two lanes left empty as a buffer. This ensures that the swimmers in lanes 1 and 8 and not adversely affected by the waves that bounce off the sides of the pool as the competitor’s race.
If you look closely at an Olympic swimming event, you will notice that there are two empty lanes on either side. This is not because competitors have not turned up, but is in fact a requirement from FINA.
We have come a long way since the days of Olympic swimming competitions being held in rivers and seas. The regulations around Olympic pools now cover length, depth, lane numbers, and even the amount of light allowed.
All of this is designed to make racing as fair as possible across each event and to allow records to be fairly compared against previous years.
If you are ever lucky enough to get to train in a true Olympic swimming pool then you will know that you can fairly compare your times against the great swimmers that have gone before you.