Picture: 123RF/NEJRON
Picture: 123RF/NEJRON

Swimmers and coaches are up in arms at the prospect that Kings Park pool in Durban is unlikely to stage the Olympic trials — for the first time in the post-isolation era.

Swimming SA will make a final decision on Friday‚ but already a provisional calendar has earmarked Port Elizabeth’s Newton Park pool for the national championships in early April.

The Eastern Cape venue‚ one of the few covered 50m pools in SA‚ is not good enough to host the gala that doubles as trials for the Tokyo Games‚ say swimmers and coaches.

For starters, the space is far more confined and will present social distancing challenges. Additionally, the facility is unconducive to fast times‚ which is exactly what Olympic hopefuls are looking for.

Chad le Clos‚ SA’s most decorated Olympian with four Games medals‚ recently told the Sunday Times there are a number of problems with Newton Park.

The 10m pool alongside Newton Park’s main pool is insufficient for warm-ups and swim-downs.

And the main pool’s shallow end is so shallow that Le Clos struggled to execute his tumble turns properly during the 2013 national championships there.

That gala ended in disaster with the water turning green. It was blamed on a broken pipe‚ though some coaches still insist it was the result of human error.

Every SA championship in an Olympic year‚ dating back to the nation’s return to competition in 1992‚ has been staged at Kings Park‚ the country’s premier aquatic venue.

But the Durban pool has been struck by various problems. The heaters are defective‚ the lighting is underpowered and the roof‚ which had a few million rand spent on it about six years ago‚ still leaks.

Coaches are blaming the national federation‚ and the administration is insisting its hands are tied. The eThekwini municipality has not responded to questions sent to them more than a week ago.

“The uncertainty of the actual venue and the possibility that it will be Newton Park where you cannot warm up or swim down properly and the danger of the much more confined space inside is another hurdle that coaches and swimmers have to deal with [on top of trying to qualify]‚” said one coach.

It would be possible to put in temporary heaters and extra lighting at Kings Park to allow the gala to take place.

But a Swimming SA official said it is illegal “to invest in a state facility”.

“The report we have says the facility is not fit for competition.”

That outlook‚ however‚ is not sitting well with coaches.

“They’ve known for four to five years that we rely on Kings Park to present a suitable venue for Olympic trials‚” said one. “But once again, they do not care one bit for people who put their lives on hold to prepare for years to represent SA at the Olympics.

“[They have] no respect for their athletes‚ no ability to do the basics right — just plan ahead and maintain a facility so that the swimmers can at least have a better chance to qualify.”

The problem with the heaters appears to have started after the first lockdown‚ and Le Clos said pool officials had told him last year that Kings Park would be ready by November 2020.

His other concern is that once the weather cooled in Durban after trials‚ Tokyo-bound swimmers would have no heated 50m pools to train in.

Without Kings Park‚ they will be forced to prepare for the Olympics in 25m pools.

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