This is the tenth in a series of 18 stories examining the best events an Indiana sports fan would want to see over a lifetime.
The competitive sport of swimming is similar to electronics: The latest innovation today can be outdated by tomorrow. That's what makes the Indiana University Natatorium in Indianapolis so impressive.
Construction was completed in the summer of 1982 just in time for the National Sports Festival. Its lead design consultant was legendary Hoosier swim coach Dr. James Counsilman. The facility will celebrate its 30th anniversary next year and is still regarded as one of the finest aquatic venues in the world.
“The Nat,” as it is affectionately referred to, has been home to 11 U.S. Olympic Trials in swimming, diving and synchronized swimming. Swimmers have set 101 American records, as well as 15 world records there over the past 29 years.
The first indication to many Hoosier swim fans that this facility might be special was the 1982-83 school year, when the IHSAA boys and girls swim championships were relocated to the facility from Ball State University. In that year, 14 of the 22 events in the two meets had IHSAA records set. Even the girls diving mark was broken at the new pool.
Virtually every top swimmer in the world – from Michael Phelps to legends such as Steve Lundquist, Jenny Thompson, Pablo Morales and many others – have trained and competed at the IU Natatorium, which is open to the public seven days a week.
Counsilman wanted to avoid constructing a “white elephant” that would possibly fill the stands for the Olympic Trials, but be too massive for everyday use and smaller competitions. The 4,700-seat venue is perfectly sized, and the cheers from a packed house reverberate off the white walls to a deafening roar.
The stands run the length of the 8-lane 50-meter (adjustable to 25 meters and 25 yards) pool for perfect sightlines for fans. And the huge scoreboard at the east end of the pool provides fans (and swimmers who can't see without their glasses), with immediate heartbreak or euphoria depending on which athlete they were cheering for.
It has been a couple of years since the best of the nation's swim meets visited the natatorium. In 2009, the ConocoPhillips National Championships were held there. But the U.S. Olympic trials left in 2008 and will be held in Omaha, Neb., next year.
The deep (ranging from 9 to 10 feet) pool with the cavernous gutter system ensures wave turbulence is minimal for racers.
As swimmers immerse themselves in the 79-degree water, they know they are competing in the best facility the world of technology has to offer. And the records that continue to be set by swimmers from any age group are a testament to that fact.