Luxury hotels and apartments love to brag about having an Olympic size swimming pool installed, but very few of these pools actually meet the “Olympic size” standard.
Standards for Olympic swimming pools are set by FINA, the international body governing aquatic sports at the Olympics and other competitions around the world.
There is a fixed size for Olympic swimming pools: the length must be 50 meters. To be precise, the pool must be 50,000 meters long when all timing equipment is installed (rule FR 2.1.1). It’s about 164 feet long.
While FINA rules allow different widths for sanctioned competitions, a pool for swimming at the Olympic Games to have to be 25.00 meters wide, i.e. a pool of 10 lanes, each 2.5 meters wide.
While only 8 swimmers compete in each event at the Olympics, every Olympics since the Barcelona Games in 1992 has used a 10-lane pool. The outer lanes are left empty to try to neutralize any inconvenience of waves bouncing off the side walls. The Jasmil Indoor Pool at the 1988 Seoul Olympics was the last Olympic pool to be only 8 lanes wide.
Olympic swimming rules allow for some flexibility in depth. There is a minimum depth of 2 meters (6.56 ft), but recommends 3 meters (9.84 ft) deep to allow the pools to be used for other disciplines, such as synchronized swimming.
Olympic swimming pools, and therefore the definition of an “Olympic-sized swimming pool”, have changed throughout history. Besides the change from an 8 lane pool to a 10 lane pool in the 1990s, the most important dimension, the length of 50 meters, has also changed.
The 1924 Olympics in Paris featured swimming at the Piscine des Tourelles, which was the first Olympic swimming pool to adhere to the modern length of 50 meters.
In the 1908, 1912 and 1920 Olympics, specially designed swimming pools 100 meters long were used. The pools were “open”, meaning there were no lane markers to divide the pool by competitor. At the 1908 Olympics in London, the Olympics used the first swimming pool, which was a 100 meter course built inside the main athletics venue.
Prior to 1908, swimming competitions were all held in open water. In the 1904 Olympics in St. Louis, swimming was held at Forest Park and races were measured in meters. It was the only Olympics that measured swim strokes in yards. In 1900, the swimming places took place in the Seine. At the 1896 Athens Olympics, the first modern Olympics, swimming was held in Zea Bay. There were 13 participants from 4 countries (Hungary, Greece, Australia and USA, which did not win any medals).
Modern swimming is usually contested in pools of three lengths: 50 meters, 25 meters and 25 meters. The records are separated by pool length, as times are generally faster in shorter pools (even when the total race distance is the same). This is because the swimmers get a boost when they push off the wall. Thus, swimming 200 meters in a 25-meter pool will be faster than swimming 200 meters in a 50-meter pool.
Many international competitions, including the International Swimming League and the World Short Course Championships, are held in 25-meter-long pools. In the United States, most school and neighborhood swim leagues swim in 25-meter-long pools. Most high school state championship competitions and nearly all NCAA championship competitions (apart from 2000 and 2004) have been held in 25-yard-long pools. Many competition pools can be divided into 50 meter, 25 meter or 25 yard lengths using moveable partitions.
Throughout history, a number of different pool lengths have been used in competition. Some are 33 1/3 meters or yards long, with three lengths totaling the traditional 100 yards or 100 yards.
At times in history, swimming pools have been built 50 meters or 55 meters long to accommodate races of 100 meters or 110/220/440 meters. There are also 20-meter or 20-yard running pools. Although these off-length pools are rarely used in competition, many still exist, often as part of private fitness clubs where the exact length of the pool is not as important.
Sometimes things were tricky – races actually ended in the middle of the pool, rather than against a wall, in order to swim, say, a 100m race in a 55m pool.
Backyard pools don’t just exist in the United States either. Remember that much of the world measured in yards, so there are still yard pools in countries like the UK and Australia.
Other water sports, such as diving, water polo and synchronized swimming, have different size criteria.
Maybe! Ask the management if the pool is 50 meters long. In terms of measurements, it is the more important to determine if your pool is Olympic size. 50 meters is about half the length of a standard sized football pitch. An Olympic size pool should be about 70 steps long.
Even if it is 50 meters long, a swimming pool in a hotel, general fitness club, apartment building or neighborhood is unlikely to meet the full definition of “size Olympic”. There are very few swimming pools in the world that meet this definition, and most of them are attached to major universities or specialized sports centers. Nowadays, many pools for major international competitions are temporary, built inside large arenas.
Due to the cost of building a pool of this size, especially in regards to the depth of the pool, it is not worth the cost for most non-competitive swimming companies to build a pool of this length.
Most trained swimmers prefer a minimum length of 25 meters in their pools. But it’s not the size of your pool that matters, it’s how you use it! Pools of all shapes and sizes can be used for fun and fitness.