Olympic swimming pools are the gold standard for competition swimming. From the Olympic Games (their namesake) to local, regional and national championships, swimmers train to perform over the 50-metre length of an Olympic swimming pool.
When you build an Olympic swimming pool, what are the rules and regulations to be aware of and how can you make sure to include all the elements that will ensure your pool is the best aquatic environment for your end users?
In this quick guide, we will cover:
- The key rules and regulations around Olympic swimming pools
- Size restrictions and requirements
- Essential design aspects to include in your Olympic pool
- How to ensure optimal water treatment
The main regulatory body concerned with the size and specific features of competition pools is the World Aquatics federation (former FINA). They set all the necessary rules to ensure a uniform approach to international competition, which are then adopted at below international level as well.
World Aquatics governs not only international swimming competitions or meets, but also other aquatic sports, such as diving, water polo, open water swimming or artistic and synchronized swimming. It is the World Aquatics Bureau that stipulates how to create the best environment for all these activities – and these are the World Aquatics Competition Regulations.
While World Aquatics regulations don’t dictate what raw materials or products to use when building an Olympic-size swimming pool, they set rules around the geometry, size and dimensional tolerances, distribution of elements, colour of pool equipment etc.
The length of an Olympic pool must be exactly 50 metres. If there are automatic officiating equipment touch panels at the starting end (or also at the turning end), then the length must ensure the required distance between the two panels is still 50 metres.
The dimensional tolerances allowed for Olympic swimming pools are +0.010, -0.000 metres when touch panels are used. Tolerances must be measured as follows:
- For swimming pools with touch panels on both ends, the distance between walls must be minimum 50.020 metres and maximum 50.030 metres;
- Tolerances must be consistent between 0.300 metres above and 0.800 metres below the water surface.
For regular competitions there is no minimum or maximum. Only the lane width parameters must be met. For the Olympic Games and World Championships the width must be 25 meters in permanent pools and 26 meters in temporary pools.
As general rule, World Aquatics states that an Olympic swimming pool with starting blocks must have a minimum depth of 1.35 metres extending from the first metre to 6.0 metres from the end wall. For the rest of the pool, a minimum depth of 1.0 metre is required. For the Olympic Games and World Championships, Olympic pools must have a minimum depth of 2.50 metres. If it is also used as a multi-sport facility, it must be 3 meters deep.
The end walls must be vertical, parallel, and form 90-degree right angles (0.3 degree tolerance) with the swimming lanes and water surface. They must be made from a solid material with a non-slip finish extending 0.8 metres below the water surface to allow the swimmer to touch and push off safely when turning. The bathing step is optional. It must be at a minimum depth of 1.2 meters and measure between 10 and 15 centimeters wide.
The World Aquatics competition regulations impose that these measurements be certified by a surveyor or other qualified official, appointed or approved by the Member of the Swimming Federation in the country where the pool is located.
Following Fluidra’s experience of engaging in World Aquatics certification processes for multiple swimming pools, our recommendation is to use a construction system based on prefabricated modular steel panels with a regulation system (such as SKYPOOL technology). This allows the fine adjustment of the structure to ensure compliance with the tolerance requirements set out by World Aquatics.
There are also other competition accessories that must comply with World Aquatics regulations in order to host official swimming competitions. Here we outline all you need to know.
For general competitions there is no minimum number of lanes. The middle lanes must be 2.5 metres wide, while the outer lanes must be 2.4 metres wide. An outer space of 0.1 metres must also be maintained in the first and last lane.
For the Olympic Games the pool must have 8 lanes with a width of 2.50 metres and an outer space of 2.50 metres. In some exceptional cases it can have 9 or 10 lanes.
In permanent pools for World Championships there must be 10 lanes, of which 8 must be 2.50 metres wide. The outer lanes (0 and 9) must be 2.40 metres wide and have an outer space of 0.10 metres. In temporary pools, all 10 lanes must be 2.50 metres wide with a 0.50 metre outer space on the first and last lane.
The main role of lane ropes is to separate swimming lanes, followed by reducing waves in the pool. The diameter of the lane rope shall be 0.10 metres minimum and 0.15 metres maximum. For Olympic Games and World Championships the diameter shall always be 0.15 metres. Lane ropes should stretch across the entire length of the course and components for wave reduction (such as the tension spring and take-up reel) should measure no more than 200 mm at each lane rope end.
As for the colours of the lane ropes, they should be distributed as follows depending on whether the pool has 8 or 10 lanes:
Starting platforms must be rigid with no spring. They must be positioned between 0.5 and 0.75 metres in height above the water surface, measure at least 0.5 x 0.5 metres in surface area, and be coated in a non-slip material. For Olympic Games and World Championships they shall have a surface area of 0.5 x 0.6 metres. They shall form an angle of less than 10 degrees and shall not protrude from the pool wall. An adjustable heel may be integrated. Backstroke handles (side and front) must be between 0.3 and 0.6 metres above the water level.
Numbering, turn indicators, and other accessories
Each starting platform must be clearly numbered on all four sides in a clearly visible manner. The timing touch panels shall be 2.40 x 0.90 x 0.01 metres and shall be positioned 0.3 metres above the water and 0.6 metres below. For backstroke turn indicators, flagged triangular ropes shall be hung along the length of the pool 1.8 metres above the water level and 5 metres from the ends of the pool. In addition, false start ropes must be placed at a height of 1.2 metres and 15 metres from the end of the pool to alert athletes of an incorrect start. The lane ropes must be marked 15 metres from the pool wall. For Olympic Games and World Championships the use of a backstroke ledge with a minimum width of 65 cm is compulsory.
The temperature of water in Olympic pools must be between 25°C and 28°C, keeping a constant level throughout the competition without noticeable swings. Water cannot have currents or turbulence. In order to maintain the water level, preserve water transparency and take into account the health regulations in force in most countries, water inlets and outlets should be regulated between 220 to 250 m3/h for 50-metre pools. Moreover, World Aquatics limits water salinity to less than 3 gr/litre of salt for pools that wish to register World Records and Junior World Records.
In general it should be a minimum of 600 lux. For Olympic Games and World Championships it should be a minimum of 1500 lux.
The marking lines must be between 0.2 and 0.3 metres wide and placed in the centre of each lane in a dark, contrasting colour. In pools of 50 metres in length, they must be 46 metres long. The lane lines must end 2 metres from the wall and have a 1 metre long transverse line crossing it that is the same width as the lane line. A transverse mark must also be placed at 15 metres and in the middle of the pool.
In addition to the competition related accessories above, there are a few extras that can be included to optimize the use of space.
Movable bulkheads allow the pool to be split into different areas and sizes for independent and simultaneous uses. When a bulkhead is used as an end wall, it must stretch the entire pool width and present a solid smooth vertical surface that is both stable and non-slip in order to install touch panels stretching at least 0.8 m below and 0.3 m above the water surface. There must be no precarious gaps above or below the water line that a swimmer’s hands, feet, toes, or fingers could go through. Bulkheads must be designed to allow officials to move freely along the pool length without creating any noticeable current or turbulence inside the water.
Another accessory for pool space optimization is the movable floor, which allows the pool depth to be changed in order to suit the different depth requirements of multiple sport activities.
Finally, at Olympic Games and World Championships, if there is a diving pool in the same venue as the Olympic pool, they must be separated by at least 8 metres.
Saltwater pools are one of the most attractive trends in aquatic installations across the world, as they create sanitized pools without the use of chlorine products. Instead, they use saline chlorination products to guarantee water hygiene.
An efficient system of this kind for all types of public pools is Freepool2 – a water treatment solution that offers optimal air and water quality and guarantees health, security and comfort for pool users. This is an innovative solution that incorporates three water treatment technologies in a single product, optimising sanitation and pH control in the most natural and efficient way possible by using Neolysis:
- Low salinity salt electrolysis for water sanitation
- Mid-pressure ultraviolet to reduce combined chloramines
- High-efficiency CO2 injections for pH regulation
On the other hand, for temporary pools in competition events we recommend the Nefrona solution.
The Nefrona water treatment solution is a compact and transportable plug-and-play concept developed by AstralPool, especially designed for temporary events. Nefrona includes disinfection, filtration and pumps for the recirculation system in the same monobloc, obtaining excellent water quality. This filtering unit is mounted on a hot-dipped galvanized steel bed plate to prevent corrosion. Also, all models can be supplied with heating and microfiltration using diatomaceous earth.
To build an Olympic swimming pool for competition, strict World Aquatics regulations must be adhered to. These go far beyond simple length stipulations, and pool builders need to be careful to ensure they have also met all the requirements in the country where the competition will take place.
With this guide, you now have a quick and easy to follow checklist covering all requirements for an Olympic swimming pool, from dimensions to accessories and water treatment.