Aaron Martin, UBC Thunderbirds
VANCOUVER – Having produced 42 Olympians and 34 U Sports national titles, the UBC Thunderbirds swim teams are among the most decorated university programs in the country.
Now, they have the facility to match.
On Thursday morning, UBC Athletics and Recreation officially unveiled the brand new UBC Aquatic Centre, marking the end of a construction process that began in August 2014.
Designed by Vancouver-based architecture firm Acton Ostry Architects Inc., in tandem with Toronto-based MacLennan Jaunklans Miller Architects, the venue features a 50-metre competitive pool, a 25-metre multi-purpose pool, and a leisure pool (with lazy river), striking a unique balance that will serve swimmers of all levels.
"Absolutely elated to see people using it the way it was meant to be used," said Mark Ostry, one of the lead architects on the project and a UBC alum. "It's a great day – always fantastic at the end of a project to see the smiles on the faces of people using the facilities. This is now one of the best aquatic facilities in the country."
The 80,000-square foot facility is also outfitted with cutting edge ventilation and filtration systems, both gendered and universal change rooms, and several innovations geared at making the venue environmentally friendly.
"It's available for everyone in the community," said UBC swimming head coach Steve Price. "However, we still have that dedicated competition side, which will allow us to continue on our tradition and our storied history of producing some of the best athletes in Canada. We managed to produce some great results in the old pool, but I think this is going to be even more so going forward."
As for the athletes that will spend hours upon hours training in the new facility, first reactions were unabashedly positive.
"It's pretty incredible," said 2016 Olympic bronze medallist and Thunderbirds rookie Emily Overholt. "To be able to train in a world-class facility like this for the next few years, it's huge. It's definitely up there with some of the best pools I've ever been in, and it's going to be terrific to get to work in that high-calibre environment every day."
Likewise, men's co-captain Keegan Zanatta was pretty awe-struck when walking into his team's new digs for the first time.
"How bright it was, how clean it was compared to the old facility [which opened in 1978]," answered Zanatta when questioned on what he first noticed about the new venue. "Really, what most came across was just how beautiful everything was."
Women's co-captain Mckenzie Summers went one step further, saying "You can almost see the opportunities we're going to have in this pool. With this kind of facility to work in, and the coaching staff we have, we can really continue to build something special with this program."
Meanwhile, when asked about his favourite feature of the new facility, Yuri Kisil, the Thunderbirds' sprint ace, didn't hesitate in his answer.
"One hundred per cent, the hot tub," laughed the sophomore, who also swam for Canada at the Rio Olympics.
Kisil also spoke to the unique aspect of having a family-oriented pool area adjacent the training area for Olympic-level athletes, and what that could mean for swimming as a whole in the province.
"It means a lot – it's really cool," said Kisil. "Hopefully, that will give communities the motivation to start swimming more if they get to swim with guys from varsity and on the national team. Hopefully, it will motivate them to try their best in swimming and, for the younger kids, try and make a career out of it."
Price echoed those sentiments.
"This sport can't exist inside a bubble," he said. "We love this set-up. Not only will this facility allow us to do everything we want to do, in terms of hosting U Sports championships and international meets, or training, but it also gives the swimmers a chance to become a bigger part of this community. And if we can inspire a kid or two along the way, all the better."
The varsity programs officially started training at the new Aquatic Centre this past Monday, while the facility will open its doors to the public next Monday, January 23.
IMAGE CREDIT: Rich Lam/UBC Thunderbirds