Feb. 17, 2011
By Jon Cooper
There’s not necessarily a tangible physical advantage that can be put on having a world-class advantage at your disposal. But there is definitely a psychological one.
Just ask the Georgia Tech Men’s and Women’s Swimming and Diving Teams. They have the luxury of practicing every day and hosting home meets at the Georgia Tech Aquatic Center, a world-class facility with an Olympic-size pool (50 meters long by 25 meters wide, with eight official lanes plus two extra ones) — constructed especially for the 1996 Atlanta Summer Games.
They also have the luxury of hosting the 2011 ACC Championships — the women begin Day Three of the four-day Championships tonight, while the men begin their four-day Conference Championships next Wednesday.
“I think it’s a big advantage,” said Head Coach Courtney Shealy Hart, who won Olympic Gold in the 400 medley relay and 400 freestyle relay at the 2000 Sydney Games. Different pools swim different ways, so we obviously know this facility the best,”
Familiarity is big for the seniors, who have been in the pool for four years and who will be swimming in their second ACC Championships at the GT Aquatic Center (Tech also hosted in 2005)
“Especially for our turns in our races, it’s a huge advantage,” said senior co-captain and fly/freestyle sprinter Katherine Locker. “It’s important to be able to know where you are in the pool and a lot of that is based on how you see the bottom of the pool, the lines of the pool. That will help us a lot.”
“It is a huge advantage in that we know the walls, we know the starts, we know the turns,” agreed men’s co-captain and senior freestyler Jeffrey Phillips. “It’s our pool that we practice in every day.”
That extra psychological boost can make a difference in a meet where the intensity is already amped up. Locker had her best career times in the 50-, 100- and 200-meter free and 100-fly (the 200-free and 100-fly are eighth- and ninth-best in school history) at the 2009 ACC Championships, while Phillips set career-best times in the 50- and 100-free (the latter the ninth-best time in school history) at the 2009 ACCs.
Being in Atlanta means an extra-large Tech cheering section.
“Everybody can be there and everybody can watch,” said Coach Hart. “It’s a separate men’s and women’s meet. So our men can be there to cheer on our women and vice versa. Our women will be there the second week to cheer on the men. I think that’s a tremendous help because they train together so to have that support from their teammates is a big part of why we can be successful.”
Phillips is expecting an even-larger cheering section.
“I get all my family that probably wouldn’t make it to a meet, if it was held somewhere else,” said the Oxford, Miss., native. “They can come and watch me swim and compete for the last time. It means a lot.”
For most of the team, the simple appreciation of swimming in one of the top facilities in the world is something they’ll never take for granted.
“It is very nice because we have a lot of facilities that a lot of other programs in the ACC don’t have,” said sophomore flyer Michael Hart. “When we’re practicing in the winter we can take the bulkheads out and we can practice long course, where we double our distance, make our training harder. It’s good for preparation, especially, coming into ACCs, having the edge, knowing these are the walls that we’ve practiced on, the blocks that we’ve practiced on. It’s good to almost have this home-pool advantage going into ACCs.”
For sophomore free sprinter Lexi Weber, NOT having to go somewhere else is advantage enough.
“It’s kind of hard going to other teams’ pools and swimming in them because a lot of the time they are sub-par pools,” she said. “Conditions of air quality and temperature in the pool and stuff like that, does really affect the way you swim mentally and physically. If the pool is too warm you’re going to feel a lot more tired. If the air quality is bad it’s harder to breathe and that wears you out, too. So you just kind of have to mentally prepare yourself for whatever is coming because you can’t let it get the best of you once you’re there.”
Finally, there is the extra incentive that holds true in any sport, that of not letting other teams celebrate on your grounds.
“It’s just a sense of pride,” said Locker. “This is our house, this where WE train. I think it’s definitely going to give us more adrenaline and we’ll amp it up a little more.”