My take: Huntsville earns gold medal with new Aquatics Center

single-meta-cal July 5, 2017

Every day for more than a week, I began my mornings by strolling down a promenade that dissected the Olympic Green in Beijing, China. It was during the 2008 Summer Olympics, in what I refer to as “a previous life.”

My destination was the “Water Cube,” officially called the National Aquatics Center. It was a magnificent structure that seemed to come alive with its pulsating, elaborate light system that could make the exterior change colors. Inside, it was impeccably designed for spectators drawn to what was the first true “Michael Phelps Olympics” and the hundreds of us media types fortunate enough to have been credentialed.

(I should use the present tense “is,” as the Water Cube remains open – as a tourist attraction with water slides, a lazy river and wave pool, then it will be transformed into the curling arena for the 2022 Winter Olympics.)

I have been to hundreds of diverse sporting venues. The Water Cube is on the short list of “most impressive.”

For swimming venues, it wins the gold medal.

The new Huntsville Aquatics Center takes silver.

My previous life in newspapers took me to a lot of pools and swim centers. A local swim league was my first official beat. Thirty-seven years later, I was covering the biggest swim meet in the world, watching the greatest swimmer ever and chronicling the medal quest of a local swimmer, Margaret Hoelzer (she won three of them, two silvers and a bronze).

The Aquatics Center will propel even more kids to swim. It will open those doors for a new generation.”

Though I drifted away from swimming coverage for many of those 37 years, the sport still took occasionally me to regional and national meets, Olympic trials and NCAA championships.

So, to shed modesty for a second, I have seen more than my share of pools, and probably your share, too.

And praise for Huntsville Aquatics Center is not some hometown hype based on whose name is at the bottom of my paychecks.

I am blown away by the ingenuity, the attention to detail, the beauty, the view, the dedication to making it so spectacular. The team of City leaders, architects, designers and construction crews assured that corners weren’t cut in making this place come alive.

Mostly, I’m blown away by the potential.

Chris O’Neil, one of Huntsville’s greatest swimmers and the City’s Facilities Construction Projects Coordinator, talks in a companion piece to this about how the Legacy pool – the old 50-meter pool that will remain a vital piece of the facility – helped propel his career, and that of other swimmers. It opened doors to travel and experiences and education.

The Aquatics Center will propel even more kids to swim. It will open those doors for a new generation.

It will open the doors to the city for hundreds of families who’ll come visit for swim meets and hopefully leave a lot of money behind. This will be a major draw for the Huntsville Sports Commission’s use. The economic impact of one major event would be in seven figures.

It will open the doors for greater exposure for our city because of its capability to hold high-level competitions because of the two 50-meter pools under the same roof. It could host not just traditional swim meets but water polo or synchronized swimming.

Don’t just take my word. Stop by the Rocket City Swim League City Championships or the Southeastern Long Course Championships in July.

You’re gonna see how Huntsville struck gold.