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Opinion: City swim clubs on life support because Laurentian won’t open its pool

Sudbury Laurentian Swim Club, the Sudbury Synchro Swim Club, and Masters Swimming Sudbury could all disappear with two years because the university has kept the facility closed without providing any satisfactory arguments as to why
laurentian swim club, swim meet, swimming, competitive, Jeno Tihanyi, Laurentian pool
The Jeno Tihanyi Olympic Gold pool at Laurentian University has been closed since the onset of the pandemic in March 2020. 

Unfortunately, the pool has remained closed, despite the removal of restrictions by public health authorities. The continued closure of the Tihanyi pool has crippled the three main community users of the pool — the Sudbury Laurentian Swim Club, the Sudbury Synchro Swim Club, and Masters Swimming Sudbury, all of whom were training at the pool right up until its closure. 

The Tihanyi pool is ready for use — the pool is full, and the water is being treated and circulated. Communications with Laurentian University have been impossible — no one is able or willing to explain why the pool is closed or why the university, presumably hungry for revenue due to its insolvency crisis, will not accept the fees offered by the three major users. 

What is clear is that the original arguments made to justify the closure of the pool no longer hold water.

The Tihanyi pool is a 50-metre, Olympic-sized, eight-lane lap pool with a movable bulkhead that converts the facility into two, 25-metre, eight-lane pools. It is the focal point for competitive aquatic sports in Sudbury and northeastern Ontario. 

There is no other 50-metre pool between the Greater Toronto Area and Thunder Bay, and Sudbury is the centre for regional competitions, whether competitive swim meets or artistic swimming competitions. 

Our clubs have contributed to the competitive infrastructure of the pool. The electronic scoreboards, touchpads, lane ropes and starting blocks were all purchased by the Sudbury Laurentian Swim Club. These were all used by Laurentian University and their highly successful varsity swim team, who hosted swim meets that were run by our swim club volunteers. 

The swim clubs in Sudbury successfully compete with the best clubs in the province. Indeed, Nina Kucheran, an athlete who trained out of the Tihanyi pool with the Sudbury Laurentian Swim Club for most of her life, finished fourth at the recent Olympic Trials, narrowly missing the Olympic team. 

Nina’s accomplishments are the result of the Tihanyi pool. Access to this facility has allowed our clubs to attract top quality coaches, ensuring our success. 

In addition, city pools are simply inadequate in terms of size and configuration. To compete at provincial and national levels, our swimmers must train 15-20 hours per week in the pool, before and after school and on the weekend. The city pools do not have the capacity to provide the needed pool time during these periods for our clubs. 

City pools have fewer and narrower lanes than the Tihanyi pool, creating crowded conditions that can lead to injury. The 50-metre length of the Tihanyi pool is critical for training during the “long course” season of competitive swimming. 

City pools are also not of sufficient width or depth for artistic swimming, particularly in terms of safety — athletes are limited in the type of throws and lifts they can do due to the shallow ends. The deep end of the Tihanyi pool reduces the risk of injury for the artistic swimmers throughout their routine when performing underwater. 

Finally, city pools lack the space for flexibility training as well as land-drilling the routines that synchro swimmers perform. 

The Tihanyi pool is the hub for regional swim meets and competitions in northeastern Ontario. No other pool in the region is capable of hosting swim competitions of the necessary scale. 

The Sudbury Laurentian Swim Club hosts four swim meets annually, bringing swimmers and their families from across northeastern Ontario, Muskoka and southern and eastern Ontario. The Sudbury Synchro Club has similarly hosted regional meets. None of the pools in Sudbury are capable of hosting a swim meet or artistic swim competition beyond a novice level of competition. 

Closure of the pool will mean that there will no longer be any regional swim competitions in Sudbury. 

Randy Pascal from Sportlink Sudbury performed an analysis of the economic impact of our largest swim meet (the Jeno Tihanyi Championships) that attracts 450-500 swimmers and their families to the city. According to calculations from the Sport Tourism Economic Assessment Model (STEAM), this single swim meet brings in approximately $320,000 in economic activity each year. 

All of our annual swim meets and competitions would bring in well over $1 million in economic activity to Sudbury. 

Like all sporting clubs, the competitive aquatic clubs of Sudbury have struggled since the onset of the pandemic, but without access to the Tihanyi pool, our clubs will cease to exist within 12-24 months. 

The double impact of the pandemic and the continued closure of our main training facility has led to a large decrease in athletes. 

The Masters Swim Club has lost a third of its membership because the available morning pool schedule is too late for those working. Similarly, the Sudbury Laurentian Swim club has lost almost 50 per cent of its swimmers in part because practices must be scheduled at pools across the city. 

The combination of reduced pool time, fewer swimmers paying membership fees, and the large increase in pool costs to the city has put the future of competitive aquatic sports in Sudbury at risk. 

Hundreds of athletes used the Tihanyi pool to train and compete in. Our clubs have a legacy of success that must continue. We need to get these athletes, most of them youth, back in the pool. We are urging Laurentian University to take our money, open the Tihanyi pool, and allow training to resume.

Albrecht Schulte-Hostedde is the president of the Sudbury Laurentian Swim Club. Jenni Calford Binks is the president of the Sudbury Synchro Swim Club. Phil Parker is the head coach of Masters Swimming Sudbury.