Not your average day at the baths: Swimming in the wake of Olympians as London Aquatic Centre opens to public

Jamie Merrill dives into the iconic pool and gets a first feel of East London's 'Olympic legacy'

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The Independent Online

The cauldron flame may have been extinguished long ago but the spirit of London 2012 returned to the Olympic Park today, as the London Aquatic Centre opened its doors to the public for the first time.

The ever-cheerful volunteers who lit up the Games two years ago were out in force again, directing local swimmers and amateur enthusiasts towards the glistening new facility in the heart of East London.

To British swimming fans the Zaha Hadid-designed centre, which stands in the centre of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in the shape of a giant wave, is hallowed territory. It is where Ellie Simmonds won four medals for Team GB and Tom Daley took bronze from the 10-metre diving board.

And it was here today that The Independent joined the thousands of swimmers who finally got the chance to test out their new local pool.

The doors to the centre’s two 50m long Olympic pools opened at 9am, Londoners and swimming fanatics, some who had travelled from as far as Denmark, paying £4.50 to take the plunge.

I managed to get in early and one thing is abundantly clear; this is not your average local pool. Since 2012 it has lost much of its stadium seating, bathing its azure blue waters and Red Lauro timber ceiling in bright light.

My first dive into the water is inexpert by amateur, let alone Olympic standards, and it’s clear I should have made use of the dry dive room, where Tom Daley trains twice a week. Nonetheless as I tackle a few lengths the experience is joyous.

I’m soon joined in the water by the first members of the public, swimming mad sisters Hayley and Ashley Newman, who had got up at 6am to make the journey up from Hythe in Kent. Of the two it was Hayley, 21 who had the honour of being the first member of the public to dive in.

“Ashley has been talking about being the first member of the public into the pool since the Games, but she was distracted for a moment and I took my moment to dive in ahead of her.”

Local resident Margo Farnham, 58, lives just a few miles away and was among one the first swimmers to take made a more sedate entry into the pool for her daily swim.

“It’s just fantastic to see people of all ages and all abilities here using the pool,” said the teacher, who volunteered during the Games in 2012. “Swimming is something that is inclusive and open for all, so this really is something to be celebrated.”

Peter Bundy, deputy manager of Greenwich Leisure Limited, the social enterprise running the pool, said: “This is a fantastic day for the legacy of the Games and the local community who can now use the best pool in the world. It’s a new local pool for London, not just the elite athletes who continue to train here”

Newham has long been promised an Olympic “legacy” and now for just £4.50 a go and some gentle exercise, the borough’s residents can finally experience what that overused buzzword really feels like.