Water Cube atmosphere failing to match drama in pool

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The Independent Online

So we know two things about the Water Cube, the space-age swimming venue at the Beijing Olympics: it is a fast, fast pool and it has a surprisingly dull atmosphere.

Most attention regarding the Cube has centred on its design, wonderfully different and eye-catching. The design needs sunlight to bring out its fluid qualities and there's not a lot of sunlight breaking through - but that's a small beef.

But fast? It's lightning. Not only did Michael Phelps break his world record in the 400 individual medley by a stunning 1.4s, Stephanie Rice broke Katie Hoff's world record by an even more shattering 1.67s in her 400m medley.

Add to that the drama of the men's blistering 4x100m relay yesterday, where five of the teams broke the world record, and it is obvious the Chinese have put together a fantastically fast pool, perhaps the fastest the world has ever seen with new lane rope and water distribution technology and who knows what else. Olympic records are being routinely broken, sometimes from heat to heat.

Swimming world records are usually broken in small increments. The advances of world records by Rice and Phelps call to mind 40 years ago when an unheralded long jumper, Bob Beamon, broke the world record at the Mexico Olympics of 1968.

He didn't just break it, he blitzed it. No-one had jumped 28 ft in those days and Beamon didn't bother with 28ft. He just soared on out to 29 ft.

In swimming terms, breaking a world record by about 1.5 seconds (more in Rice's case) has, if not equal to Beamon's freakish feat, more than a touch of the Beamonesque about it.

Phelps completely bypassed the 4m 4s barrier, heading straight into 4m 3s. Rice similarly bypassed the 4m 30s barrier in the women's event, taking the record from 4m 31s straight down to 4m 29s territory.

There'll be more to come - I just hope there's more atmosphere when it does.

Let me explain. Olympic and Commonwealth Games swimming meets are usually boisterous affairs. People whistle and blow horns. The Americans hoot and holler. The Canadians do the same. The Australians make a vast noise, the Asian teams are increasingly noisy and flag-wavers supreme with the rise and rise of Asian swimming. And the Kiwis often do a haka.

In other words, the pool is usually a hotbed of good-humoured patriotism and support.

But, except for when a Chinese athlete is swimming, the Beijing pool has been strangely quiet.

It's hard to understand why. There's probably no better facility in world swimming and we have already remarked on the design. But this doesn't seem to be a facility issue. It's the crowd.

It's not as if there aren't plenty of foreigners in tight national groups scattered around the Cube. There are. They're just not making any noise. Go figure.

This story was sourced from The New Zealand Herald