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The baptism of the Games
Demmie Stathoplos
July 25, 1983
The new Olympic pool in L.A. opened to cheers, gripes and a world record
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July 25, 1983

The Baptism Of The Games

The new Olympic pool in L.A. opened to cheers, gripes and a world record

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They held a premiere in Los Angeles last week to introduce the new Olympic swimming venue. It opened to mixed reviews. The feature attraction was the McDonald's International Invitational meet, and it included a cast of some 330 swimmers from 20 countries who came to test the waters of the $4-million outdoor pool that will be used for the Games next summer. As at all premieres, a few stars showed up, the brightest being Vladimir Salnikov of the Soviet Union.

The day before the meet began, the temperature was pushing 95�, the blue water of the 50-meter pool glistened in the hot sun and smog lay like a brown velvet shroud over Los Angeles. Salnikov was asked about the new facility.

"It's nice. It's not bad. But it's not extraordinary," he said, hedging. "I hope there will be something to protect us from the sun next summer."

But what about the smog? Will it bother you?

"I thought about smog," said Salnikov, "but I haven't seen it yet."

He nonetheless was able to spot some flaws in the venue, notably the walk of several hundred yards that swimmers had to take every time they wanted to shower or change. He also suggested that he didn't think the pool was very fast. Salnikov, the world-record holder in the 400, 800 and 1.500 freestyle, would be trying its speed in the 800 on Thursday and the 400 on Saturday, but would skip the 1,500. He was saving himself for the European Championships in late August.

The top U.S. swimmers were evidently saving themselves, too. Few bothered to show up in Los Angeles, because, said U.S. officials, they were busy training for the national long-course championships—which will also serve as the Pan Am Games trials—in Clovis, Calif. in early August. Some notables did turn out: UCLA's Bill Barrett; Tiffany Cohen of Mission Viejo; Tony Corbisiero of Columbia University, ranked second to Salnikov in the 800-meter free.

This rather weak American aggregation had to face East Germany's four top women swimmers, and the U.S.S.R.'s best men. And, oh yes, Japan sent over a large contingent, though no one was particularly worried about them. All of which made for a rather strange meet, which at times seemed more a dress rehearsal for next year's big show than a major international competition. For the foreigners, the McDonald's meet was the only time they would be able to try the pool before 1984; for the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee, it was a chance to listen to complaints.

And complaints they heard. The harshest critic was the G.D.R.'s Petra Schneider, current world women's 400 IM record holder, who claimed that the pool lacked both an overflow gutter and extra lanes on either edge to act as a cushion for the chop stirred up by competitors. "If you're in the center lane, it's O.K.," said Schneider, "but in the outside lanes, the waves slow you down."

This attack mystified Jay Flood, swimming commissioner for the '84 Games, who pointed out that there are, indeed, two-foot-deep gutters all around the pool, and, furthermore, that there is an extra—though narrow—lane on either side of the pool. The only condition that might account for some of Schneider's criticism was that the water level was a millimeter or so too low. That problem could easily be solved by—listen to this—adding more water.

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