When you consider professional sports in your mind, swimming is probably not at the forefront. In fact, the discipline isn’t common at all in Barranquilla, or for that matter in Colombia. Likely that’s due to the lack of famous Colombian swimmers in the media. If Michael Phelps were Colombian, it probably wouldn’t be so difficult to keep interest in the sport and to maintain facilities like the fifty-meter pools so necessary for training and competition.
Despite the city being a coastal town, the average Barranquillero would say they can’t swim very well at all, and so, it’s far less possible to find locals who want to practice the sport professionally. Instead, its more common that people go to swimming clubs for leisure or to learn to swim. Others join on the advice of a doctor such as in the case of kids with asthma and other respiratory issues who swim to gain pulmonary capacity. Also, many athletes from other sports come to the pools looking for a natural treatment for spinal or positional problems, poor muscular tone and lack of coordination. The coaches of these sports establishments often say that thanks to the doctors they keep finding swimmers with natural talent.
The city’s public facility for professional swimming is the Olympic pool which is located behind Teatro Amira de la Rosa at Carrera 55 #52 -170. On the same property are an arena and the offices of Indeportes. This complex offers a total of three pools where, besides swimming, you can also practice water polo, synchronized swimming, and diving. This is also the home of the Atlántico Swimming League.
There are also several academic institutions (colleges and universities) with pools, however they generally aren’t open to the public and so the only place to go if you don’t belong to any of those is the Olympic pool.
In general, athletes who swim professionally begin their careers as early as five years old, following a three stage process. At first, they start at the learning stage, where they learn the four basic stroke styles (freestyle, breast, back and butterfly). After that, they move to the training phase, where their techniques are perfected, and their talents are selected. Finally, they move into the competition phase in which they start their careers as swimmers.
At the national level, Atlántico frequently places in the top place standings and at past competitions, we have had optimal results with many finalists, medalists, national champions and leading positions in the open tryouts, but we always come in behind departments like Antioquia, Valle, and Cundinamarca. The coaches of the two biggest swim clubs in the city, Dolphins and Academy, agree on the fact that the poor conditions of our local pool is the main obstacle to getting better marks.
The Olympic pool was closed due to renovations from 2011 to 2013, and even today in 2016, its conditions are still not at one hundred percent for preparing the swimmers. The league teams are not happy at all, stating that the changes were not adequate. Gabriel Pontón, Dolphins’ coach, said “We don’t know what happened, if the money wasn’t enough or what, but there are a lot of things missing from this pool. They never finished the diving platforms, and the deep pool lacks depth”. He went even further and said that anyone who didn’t know much of the technical parts of swimming, by only looking at the edges of the pool could clearly see that they are in an awful state.
Pontón says that the facility was not conditioned according to what the athletes from Barranquilla both need and deserve. In his opinion, the various problems directly affect the results because they don’t let the sport grow in the city, and for him, without this, it is impossible to compete with the other departments.
Aldo Pichón, Academy’s coach, said that only when his students leave the city to compete do they realize how proper training facilities should look. “Here we need clear pools and water with high turbidity.”
Interestingly, this sports hub has been slated for use by the Central American and Caribbean Games in 2018, and if so, it will need some urgent renovations. However, the staff haven’t heard anything about a possible renewal, much less a date of construction and yet, they have been hearing that the budget for the event is enormous.
Pichón hopes that if restorations do indeed happen that they are perfectly managed because he recalls the period during which renovations were last completed back in 2011. They suffered a lot while the pool was closed, and they didn’t get what they wanted. “Last time the government made changes we moved to the University of Atlántico. Although this is an acceptable place, we were uncomfortable there because it was like living in someone else’s house. The number of training sessions dropped because we didn’t have full freedom”. At the Olympic Pool, they always do double shifts, which are about ten sessions a week; but when they were in Uni-Atlantico, they could barely complete six. “This dramatically impacted performance, and during this time the results fell and even the number of athletes dropped by 40%,” Pichón said.
Despite all these difficulties both clubs are working hard to try to qualify someone from Barranquilla to represent Colombia in the games. Among others, Santiago Hernández, Rafael Soto Rivera, Juan Camilo Polo and David Padilla are the biggest prospects for the 2018 squad.