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Making a splash

Vicki Gilhula November 7, 2012 Travel No Comments on Making a splash

Swimmer adds visit to Olympic pools on her travel itinerary.


If you go to China, you need your passport, a visa and tickets, and if you want to swim at the Water Cube, site of the 2008 Olympics, you need a deep water swimming certification to swim in the deep section.

Which meant I had to swim in the shallow end. Oh, how ironic. I’m an active, employed, certified lifeguard/swimming instructor, a masters swimmer, a swimming official, and a race director of an open-water swim. But no one cared at the Water Cube. No certification? No deep water.

I was recently in China touring with my husband. We are masters swimmers and fans of the Olympics, so we wanted to swim in the Water Cube.

I love to swim and never take my super power for granted. When the moon and stars align, I can swim with something approaching finesse, though I’m never the fastest shark in the tank. When I travel I like to swim in other cities’ pools. If an Olympics has been there, I definitely have to see the pool and swim in that pool.

It has nothing to do with wanting to play “let’s pretend I’m an Olympian.” It has to do with swimming at the site of the pinnacle of the sport I love. It’s an obsession now.

It all began in 1985 on a backpacking trip through Europe. One of my travelling partners wanted to see the 1936 Olympic sites in Berlin. Being a recently graduated journalism student/sportswriter, I tagged along. Sounded cool and it was. The Olympiapark Schwimmstadion Berlin is an outdoor facility.

When we arrived in Munich, I pledged to swim in the 1972 Olympics pool. My interest in sports began watching those games.

I swam twice in that magnificent pool awash in natural light from windows on the far wall. The changing rooms were unisex so we observed some attractive bodies. One man tried to pick up one of my travelling companions. All for naught, I’m afraid. Little did he know why she would never be interested. Even I wouldn’t find out until years later.

In 1994, I qualified for the world masters swimming championships held at la piscine du Parc Olympique, site of the 1976 Montreal Olympics. Last year, I swam at la piscine Claude Robillard, site of diving, waterpolo and training for the swim events in Montreal.

This past July, my husband—we met at Sudbury’s Jeno Tihanyi Olympic Gold Pool—was competing in the World Dragon Boat Club Crew Championships in Hong Kong. Afterwards, we headed to China for a trip of a lifetime.

On our last morning in Beijing, we pulled up to the Water Cube and the Bird’s Nest for a two-hour tour. The Water Cube is as fabulous in real life as it is in pictures, but since the Olympics, the facility has changed.

There is now a massive waterpark inside and the main competitive pool has been transformed. Visitors can only swim in what served as the warm-up pool for the 2008 Olympics. On the day we visited, the pool where Michael Phelps won his eight golds was a stage for A Dream of Red Mansions, a famous, and this being China, epic, tragic story.

We weren’t given the chance to prove we could swim 200 metres and tread water for 30 seconds or could hold a ball in each hand better than any seal. I strode to the shallow side determined not to waste the opportunity to swim. My husband and I swam the 50-metre lengths with strong, steady strokes, some butterfly, some backstroke. I showed off.Like everywhere else in China, we were dodging people. It reminded me of crossing the street in Beijing.

At the end of the day, a pool is still a pool. We travel for the experience, for those unexpected moments, to see how other people in the world live and breathe. And while my bathing suit smelled of chlorine, as per usual, it was Olympic chlorine.

Next stop? Athens? Sydney? Los Angeles? So many pools, so little time.


If you go:




Montreal: Piscine du Parc Olympique:


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