What Is Olympic Pool Water Temp? [Fact Checked!]

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During the Summer Olympic Games in August, the question of water temperature will be asked a hundred times. It’s a question that has plagued swimmers, divers, and water polo players for years. What is the ideal body temperature of a swimmer? Does it matter where you swim in the world? When will the water warm up enough to be comfortable? These are all issues that the sports world wants to know the answer to.

While these questions might seem obvious to the experts, they couldn’t be answered based on science until now. That is, until the International Olympic Committee (IOC) approved a set of standards for the temperature of the water at the Summer Olympic Games. The standards, which take effect in 2020, are as follows:

  • Pool water must be between 15.9°C (or 61°F) and 23.3°C (or 75°F)
  • Individual swimmer’s water temperature must be between 15.9°C (or 61°F) and 26.7°C (or 77°F)
  • Swimmers must be able to perform within a range of temperatures, with the range determined by the sport
  • The water surface temperature of the swimming pools must be between 18.8°C (or or 64.4°F) and 24.9°C (or or 75.5°F)
  • Coaches must be able to monitor and control the water temperature in their respective pools. This is to ensure that the swimmers are able to perform at their optimum levels without getting overheated or underheated

Why Now?

You might wonder why the IOC has responded by setting a standard for the water temperature at the Summer Olympic Games. After all, it’s not like the issue has never been addressed before. Take a look at some of the previous Summer Olympic Games and you’ll find that the waters have been either too cold or too hot. Indeed, a 1912 Summer Olympics in Stockholm, Sweden featured “ice bathing” (in which bathers went in up to their necks in chilly freshwater lakes) and a 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne, Australia saw temperatures reach 40 degrees Fahrenheit—which is closer to oven temperature than swimming pool temperature. So why did it take so long for the IOC to act?

The truth is that science didn’t really have the answers it needed until recently. That is, until the development of thermodynamic models (which simulate the movement of heat through a substance) and computer-aided design (CAD) software, which makes it possible to accurately predict the impact of varying temperature on materials). Armed with this new knowledge, scientists at the IOC were able to craft a set of standards that would optimize the performance of the Summer Olympic Sport. The process of establishing those standards involved a lot of research and testing and, ultimately, three years of debate among experts. The end result is that science has finally arrived at the “ideal” temperature for the water at the Summer Olympic Games—and it’s much better than you’d think. Let’s take a look.

The Impact Of Water Temperature

As we established, the water temperature at the Summer Olympic Games plays a crucial role in the performance of the participating athletes. Let’s take a quick look at the specifics.

  • The lower the temperature, the better. According to the experts, the optimum temperature for your swimming pool is between 15.9°C (or 61°F) and 23.3°C (or 75°F). Anything below 15.9°C (or 61°F) and above 23.3°C (or 75°F) and you’ll notice a significant decline in your swimmer’s performance.
  • As you might imagine, cold water is best for maintaining a high level of performance. It’s been proven that the optimal swimming pool temperature for athletes is between 17.5°C (or 63°F) and 22.2°C (or 72°F). Letting the water get any colder than that and you’ll notice a significant performance hit.
  • Similarly, warm water can be very beneficial to an athlete’s training. Letting the water get any hotter than 26.7°C (or 77°F) and you’ll notice a significant decline in performance—just like in the cold case scenario mentioned above.
  • Now that you have the science behind the standard, let’s take a quick look at how the standard will be applied in practice.

Applying The Standard

According to the standard, pool water must be between 15.9°C (or 61°F) and 23.3°C (or 75°F). In practice, this is what you’ll see at many top-tier swimming pools around the world. Most countries adhere to the standard, so you won’t be subjected to any “odd” temperatures in your local pool. The only variable is how quickly the water is pumped around the pool. In some places, such as China, the water is circulated slowly, ensuring that the temperature stays steady. In other places, such as South Korea, the water is pumped faster, leading to a hotter environment that’s more suitable for training.

Which Sport?

The first thing you might ask is whether you should care about the water temperature at all. Is there any specific sport that will be impacted by this standard? The short answer is yes—but it’s not your typical “sweaty” sport. Let’s take a quick look at how different types of athletes will be affected by the new standard.

  • For those participating in short-distance events (such as the 100-meter, 200-meter, and 400-meter sprints), the standard will have little to no impact. While it will be critical for the athletes to adhere to the standard in order to maximize their performance, there is no evidence that the ideal temperature for those events is different from the general rule. That is, you should care about the water temperature for short-distance events because it impacts your performance, not because it determines the overall “class” of the event (the term “class” meaning the temperature at which others participate)
  • For diving and water polo, it doesn’t really matter what temperature the water is, as long as it is consistent throughout the venue. The key is to keep the temperatures stable—not too hot and not too cold. A venue with differing water temperatures will result in uneven competition. This, in turn, could lead to injuries (from free radicals created during exertion) and even deaths. So, while ideal for the participants, the temperature of the water needs to be consistent at every Olympic venue for the safety of the athletes. For this reason, those sports are excluded from this particular aspect of the standard. Still, it’s critical for the divers and water polo players to stay hydrated and well-fed—especially during competition. This too will impact your performance, so it’s still important to take care of your body during this time. In the same way, you wouldn’t want to do any hardcore exercise during the Summer Olympics, in the same way, you shouldn’t go deep into hypothermia during a hot summer day—no matter what sport you participate in.
  • For swimmers, it depends on the distance they are swimming. If it’s a short race, it might not matter so much, as long as they are adhering to the overall temperature guidelines. For longer swims, it’s important to keep your body hydrated and well-fed, as well as to make sure that the water temperature is stable. If you feel that the water is getting either too hot or cold, it’s important to adjust it based on where you are in the pool. The best way to do this is to drink plenty of water and use a water bladder (such as the ones made by USABIA). These are available at most sporting goods stores.

The Future

While there will be a learning curve as teams and athletes get used to the new standard, it will be well worth it. Not only will you feel a significant difference in your own swimming—whether it’s in a heated pool or an ice-filled one—but you’ll also notice a difference in the performances of your favorite athletes around the world.

In order to maintain the same level of performance, you’ll have to adjust your training a little bit—either by moving your workouts to a cooler environment or a hotter one depending on your needs. Still, as long as your body stays within the acceptable temperature range, you’ll be able to train and compete at your fullest capacity without any worries.

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