Everybody into the pool


Sports editor

They were in and out of the water quicker than you could blink an eye.

One race right after another. Marshals didn’t even allow the eight swimmers to get out of the pool following a heat before another race began Thursday morning.

That’s just how it’s got to be when you have over 900 swimmers competing in the three-day, 32-event U.S. Open Swimming Championships at the Weyerhaeuser King County Aquatic Center. The international event concludes today with preliminary events starting at 9 a.m. and finals beginning at 6 p.m.

“It’s not too often that you get to host a meet of this magnitude,” said U.S. Open meet director Stephen Freeborn. “We have 237 teams, representing 17 foreign countries. This (event) is bigger than most of the U.S. Opens in the past because it’s a pre-Olympic year and a lot of the foreign teams come here to see where their swimmers stand against the Americans. The quality of swimming is really high.”

The quality of the aquatic center and the city of Federal Way as host for one of the biggest swim meets in the United States are also really high, according to most accounts.

“I like it here a lot,” said Michael Jacobsson, who’s from Stockholm, Sweden. Jacobsson is in Federal Way swimming for the Dallas Mustangs club team.

“I raced here five years ago and it is a very well-maintained pool. It has really good (starting) blocks and it is even all the way,” he said.

Since the aquatic center opened for the 1990 Goodwill Games, the pool has been known worldwide as one of the faster competition pools. Over 200 national and world records have been established in the 10-foot deep, 50-meter pool.

“I have traveled all over the country watching my kids swim,” said Karen Shortt, who made the trek from Gresham, Ore. to cheer for her 17-year-old daughter, Caitlyn. “And this is probably one of the top five pools in the country.”

Caitlyn Shortt thinks so much of the aquatic center that she recently signed a letter of intent to swim at the University of Washington, which uses the pool plenty during the course of its season.

“This pool does a lot for the whole area,” Shortt said. “There are swimmers here from all over the world. It is a phenomenal facility and I wish people in King County had a better appreciation for it. People are eating in restaurants and staying in hotels.”

A study published last year on the economic impact of the aquatic center, compiled by the University of Washington, states athletes, coaches, officials and spectators spent almost $4.4 million in 2002 as a direct effect of the pool.

“It is really a treasure that should be supported,” Shortt said.

Andrew Albright, a 19-year-old breaststroker, traveled to Federal Way with the University of Michigan team, which is one of the larger and more storied squads to make its way to the U.S. Open.

“This is my first time in the Pacific Northwest,” Albright said. “I really like the area. The pool is pretty nice –– a little bit nicer than our pool (in Michigan).”

The 20-plus-member Michigan team is staying at the La Quinta Inn and Suites in Federal Way, along with members of the the University of Washington swim team, among others.

“Most of the hotels in the area are booked full,” said Andy Brandon, a front desk worker at La Quinta. “It really helps our business, which we don’t mind at all.”

Brandon estimates about 100 of the hotel’s 164 rooms are being filled by swimmers from the meet.

“I have not heard a single bad thing about the community,” said Freeborn, who lives in Federal Way.

Sports editor Casey Olson:, 925-5565

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