Greater Raleigh Sports Spotlight: Triangle Aquatic Center makes a big splash on national stage
Tuesday, August 14, 2018, 9am by Neil Amato
An interesting look at the sports event industry in Greater Raleigh, N.C.
- A coach from the Orlando area called the Cary facility a “hidden gem;”
- A 14-year-old competitor from Charlotte said that being on the spacious pool deck, with separate warm-up and cool-down pools, “felt like a championship meet for sure;”
- and a coach from Tennessee said his team felt like it was “getting on the big stage of a high-level meet.”
That’s music to the ears of Mark Frank, the center’s event, marketing and program director. The goal of hosting the USA Swimming Futures meet, one of four held around the country last weekend, is to grow the reputation of the swimming in N.C., and to get the word out about the fast pool (yes, there is such a thing) with plenty of space—and more on the way thanks to a major expansion planned to be done in the next two years.
Throw in an array of restaurants, hotels, activities and the support of local partners like the Greater Raleigh Sports Alliance, and it’s easy to see why swimming visitors would want to come back to the TAC.
“This is fantastic,” said Tony Ackerson, the coach at Seminole Aquatics in Fla. since 2000. “Most of the national-level meets, you know the facilities well and you’ve been to them several times. This one I’d never been to, and it’s beautiful. The setting is idyllic, and it’s a fast pool. It’s a really, really nice, first-rate facility.”
The Triangle Aquatic Center hosts numerous events each year, and it had previously been the site of the USA Swimming Age Group Zone Championships in 2016. But this was a step up in level, with 625 swimmers from 13 states converging on Cary as the culmination of the long-course (50-meter) season. The competitors range from 13 to 21, and they had to achieve lofty qualifying marks to take part in the meet.
Those that qualify and perform well at this level, coaches said, either have excelled on the college level or are setting themselves up to garner college interest.
“There are quite a few college coaches in the stands right now,” Frank said.
For Hanani Doña, 14, the meet offered an opportunity to add to her impressive collection of backpack tags. For now, college can wait, but the big-time feel of the meet left her impressed by the pool. She swims for Mecklenburg Aquatic Club in Charlotte and has traveled extensively for meets.
Doña adds a new tag to her backpack for the event in Cary
While Doña’s routine in between races last weekend involved little more than sleeping, eating and Netflix binge-watching, she expressed enthusiasm about the facility.
“This is probably one of the best pools I’ve been to, and definitely the best pool in North Carolina that I’ve been to,” she said.
The Futures meet is one step below USA Swimming’s Junior National level. The only higher level is senior nationals, which in Olympic years becomes the U.S. team trials. For the competitors, the meet is a chance to celebrate the accomplishment and set themselves up for future success.
Ackerson, the coach from Fla., said his club’s eight participants mainly treated the event as an end-of-season bonus.
“It’s a nice trip, a nice reward for having achieved these times and being in a select group to get here,” he said. “It’s really nice to come up to a quality facility, in a nice town. If you swim well, great. If not, it’s still a nice trip.”
Ackerson said his swimmers enjoyed escaping Florida’s heat and seeing more varied terrain.
“The kids are remarking on all the trees,” he said. “Coming up here and seeing some rolling hills, it’s a different feel. It’s a lot more lush, a lot prettier.”
While the TAC will remain nestled among tall trees just off the Cary Towne Blvd. exit for I-40, it is about to get a makeover. Frank said the additions—improved spectator seating, an atrium, a fitness center and a new, 50-meter outdoor pool—would grow the facility by 22,000 square feet.
Those changes give TAC the opportunity to bid for any of USA Swimming’s events, including senior nationals.
TAC already has a reputation as a first-class host. The center is the site of the National Black Heritage Championship Swim Meet each year, and it hosts N.C. High School Athletic Association regional and state meets. The Greater Raleigh Sports Alliance works closely with TAC to help recruit and support regional and national events, and the impact on the community has been significant. In the past 10 years, events at the center have generated $70 million in visitor spending.
Talk of visitor spending and outside praise is great, but Frank said the primary goal of hosting such a meet is simple: “When we’re hosting a meet like this, the No. 1 priority is, did the swimmers have the opportunity to perform optimally in the pool? Everything starts and ends with the swimmers.”
Ensuring the best conditions for a swimmer's performance
is the biggest priority when hosting events
That includes being a fast pool. Briefly, here’s how that works. First, the pool has a gutter system that allows water, pushed by a swimmer heading toward the finish, to flow into the gutter’s gaps. If there was just a wall, the swimmer’s momentum would create waves that would bounce off the wall and create friction and churn for the swimmer.
Second is the depth of the competition pool, between seven and 12 feet. Deeper water—and to a lesser extent, wider lanes and larger lane lines—makes a pool faster. The deeper the pool, the less turbulence, because any waves created by swimmers travel farther to the bottom before bouncing back.
One way to gauge a pool’s speed is to watch the water behind swimmers. If it goes flat almost immediately behind the swimmer, the pool is fast. That’s the case at TAC.
“There was a lot of thought that went into the design of the pool,” Frank said.
And now, with designs on creating more swimming opportunities for the community and for major events, it’s safe to say that all is going swimmingly.
“It’s nice that everyone’s seeing the value of this,” Frank said. “It’s great for the Raleigh area, the Town of Cary and the swimming community to bring in this level of competition.”
Fast off the block, expansions and enhancements are coming soon to TAC