Olympic pool at our finger tips

It would make a big splash in more
ways than one yet after years of debate and fund raising there is still no
Olympic pool here.

If the Cayman Islands had an Olympic
pool, consensus is that it could stage international meets, including the
CARIFTA Games at Easter which would attract a lot of publicity and generate
more interest and, of course, revenue.

The Cayman Islands Amateur Swimming
Association has a new president in Maples partner Mark Matthews and he wants to
give the building of a new Olympic 50 metre pool fresh impetus. It will cost
around $7 million with half coming from the government and the balance from the
private sector.

The swimming association doesn’t
just want to maintain the high level of elite swimmers the programme is
producing that has seen the Fraser brothers Shaune and Brett as well as Andrew
Mackay and Heather Roffey go to the Olympics, they want to get all children
swimming to effectively ‘waterproof’ them from drowning. (Shaune will go to his
third successive Olympics in London in 2012).

It would be built at the existing
Lions Aquatic Centre at the Truman Bodden Sports Complex and have 30 training
lanes. The present one will be used as a swim-down pool. The private sector
funding was there a few years ago but the dynamics have changed since.

Matthews was a top swimmer in the
Eighties and almost made the British Olympics team for Seoul in 1988. He
trained at Canada’s University of Calgary throughout his college career and
reckons that team was as good as any in the States. “The only team that beat us
was Stanford and at the time they were the NCAA champions and they only beat us
on the relay.”

In many parts of the world,
particularly Britain, Australia and the US, community pools are a big asset and
swimming is part of the school’s curriculum. There are no community pools in
Cayman. The Lions pool is basically just for school children and elite
swimmers. Recreational swimmers and people wanting to swim for fitness have
virtually no access.

Head coach Dominic Ross and
assistant Paul Swaby and the others do a lot for the schools and use some of
the privately owned pools for instructional purposes, but there is still a huge
shortfall.

One of the government’s main
concerns is not just the capital cost but also the considerable maintenance
cost of around $300,000. Well Barbados built an Olympic pool some years ago and
also had initial fears on costs and usage extent, yet it has proven extremely
successful with plenty of revenue streams.

The Barbados pool management is a
board that has government representation with a facility management. There are
different revenue opportunities, including the swimming squads, triathletes,
private schools, masters’ swimmers. Some of it will be subsidised by the
government, others not. The aim is that the net cost to the Cayman government
is no more than at present but a lot more can be gained out of it.

A huge amount of work has gone into
it already and it needs to be refreshed but the swimming committee is assured
that when done it won’t be a huge drain on the government’s coffers.

Swimming vets Peter Stafford and
Jim Fraser have been involved in getting an Olympic pool set up since the
Nineties and are still prepared to do what they can to see it happen.

Matthews said: “We’re hoping to
‘waterproof’ all the kids on the island. It’s not just about the competitive
programme; it’s about getting everybody swimming. There are quite a few
drownings in the US every year and the percentage of black people drowning is
way higher. Most of the Jamaicans here don’t swim. If your parents don’t swim
then it has an effect on you and don’t take you. We’d like to get as many
people here as we can swimming. We’ve got a schools programme which is pretty
good and a lot of kids go through the Lions Pool. It is purely a size restriction.
If we can get this 50m pool then we can really push that side of it in terms of
it’s a very important skill to have, especially living on an island.

“We’ve already had a lot of
interest from the US universities who want to come and train here. So the top
teams like Florida State would come down, including Shaune and Brett Fraser who
would bring Ryan Lochte and other top swimmers. 

Tom McCallum is on the executive
committee and has a special interest in getting the Olympic pool project going.
The swimming association has a great public relations department headed by
Kathy Jackson. Matthews, McCallum and Jackson all have kids who are swimmers at
various levels.

Michael and Lara Matthews swim to a
high level. McCallum’s three sons are all excellent swimmers too; Alex, 16,
Iain, 13 and six-year-old Nick. They all play other sports very well too.
McCallum said: “It can make a huge difference to all of our kids. We know how
hot it gets in June, July and August but we tend to forget how cool it can be
in January. In the summer our kids hide indoors and are on video games with the
air conditioning on full blast. They can go to the beach but it gets tedious and
also they have to be supervised. Who would we use as lifeguards at the Olympic
pool? The senior kids in the swim programme, of course. It also helps to keep
the costs down. They will have to pay squad fees and in the summer months if
they want to work as lifeguards, apart from the fact that it is immensely cool
to be a lifeguard, they are amazingly safe swimmers who are trained in first
aid and you can get teenage swimmers and past swimmers in the summer months on
their school break to be lifeguards. It’s also in a controlled, safe environment.”

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Burner meets help bring the kids on.
Photo: Ron Shillingford
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