Olympic Innovations

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We all know about fast tracks for runners, horses, greyhounds, even trade bills and ambitious executives. But last week in Sydney the swimmers had, well, a very fast track — but in the water. In eight days of swimming in the Games' pool, 14 world records fell. The reason: designers created an unusually calm pool, and calm water equals higher speed, so the pool has special absorptive mechanisms on the side drains to reduce reflected wave action. The lane markers are also designed to absorb energy and reduce turbulence between the lanes. Still waters run deep, so no part of the pool is shallower than 2.5 m. The pool is 10 lanes wide, rather than the usual eight, which makes for smoother water that is quicker to recover its calm after the passage of swimmers. Making the competitors feel comfortable also makes them faster, so the water purification system uses ozone to reduce the amount of chlorine and other irritating chemicals normally used to keep the pool clean. Cold swimmers are slow swimmers, so the air temperature is kept two degrees above the water temperature of 27°C. And finally, the starting blocks are sloped and angled toward the pool for faster starts. With all that help, it's no wonder the swimmers found Sydney's high-tech pool very slick indeed.