What Yankee Stadium is to baseball or Wimbledon is to tennis, this city's prize swimming pool is to the aquatics community. ``You're talking the Taj Mahal,'' says Jeff Dimond, director of information for United States Swimming. Such glowing statements are not uncommon when it comes to the Indiana University Natatorium, a gleaming $21 million, five-year-old facility on the campus of Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis and a central competition site of the 10th Pan American Games both this week and next. It will house all the swimming and diving events, as well as synchronized swimming and water polo.
Webster's tells us a natatorium is a pool, especially the indoor variety, but Dimond and many others connected to the swimming community call this one the ultimate in form and function - both beautiful and fast.
Of all the world-class athletic venues built in Indianapolis during the past decade, it may be the most stunning - at least on the inside, where a vaulted white cathedral creates a striking corridor for an 8-lane highway of blue waters and an 18-foot-deep diving well.
Rows of seats on either side create a stadium for 4,700 spectators, which is twice the capacity of any similar American facility.
The setting inspires top performances, as do the state-of-the-art design features, including large gutters and special Teflon-like tiles that reduce water turbulence and contribute to good times.
Before drawing up the plans, the architects thoroughly researched their subject, visiting about 20 pools in this country, as well as those used in three Olympics. Opinions were sought not just from swimmers and pool managers, but also from janitors, locker room attendants, and concessionaires.
Why so much attention to detail?
Partly because of the input of James (Doc) Counsilman, Indiana University's swimming coach at the main Bloomington campus and a leader in the aquatics field. The natatorium's top priority ``customer'' whenever he transports his teams to its second home, Counsilman was instrumental in placing the pool at the sport's cutting edge.
Then, too, Indianapolis wanted a long-term asset, one that could help the city cling to its self-proclaimed title of amateur sports capital of the United States.
``One of the unspoken goals in all this,'' says Dale Neuburger, manager of the natatorium since it opened in 1982, ``was to build a facility that could host major competitions 25 years down the road. In the 1970s there were some great pools built that couldn't host national championships even several years later, because of the changes in the sport, both technological and those brought on by TV.''
Among the features that should give this complex long-lasting appeal are:
A filtration system that feeds water evenly from the floor of the pool, thereby, making for a fair race with calm water in each lane, including those against the side walls.
Two sliding bulkheads that permit long-course (50-meter) or short-course (25-yard) swimming.
An elevator to the diving platforms.
Recessed toe slots on the walls so swimmers don't have to tread water.
A high ceiling and skylights that create an outdoors feeling, plus an intensely blue diving well, which in contrast to the surrounding whiteness, helps divers zero in on their target.
There's also a large instructional pool with a moveable floor. This is helpful in getting less ambulatory individuals into the water and for gradually increasing the water level in beginning swimming classes.
The natatorium was envisioned as a true community resource, and it fulfills that role admirably, accommodating thousands of swimmers both in meets and recreationally (anyone can rent a lane for $3 an hour). It is a mecca for the state's high school swim teams, more than a 100 of which rented pool time during the past year. Special events are welcome, too, such as remote-control boat racing, business conferences, or the facility's own annual Classical Splash, a synchronized swim and symphony program.