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Once-Celebrated Pool is Past Its Prime
In 1932, when the Exhibition Pool at Payne Whitney
Gymnasium first opened, it was the best any college could boast. The new pool
was 25 yards long, had six lanes, and was surrounded by 2,187 seats soaring
steeply upward, always filled with hooting fans. “The great roar of the crowd
seems to push straight down into the water,” Sports
Illustrated said in 1969. “This, plainly, is good if you’re a Yale man, unsettling
if you’re not.”
With the “Ex Pool” as its home, the men’s team
dominated its competion. They competed in 201 dual meets without a loss from
1945 to 1961, mostly during the tenure of swim coach Robert Kiphuth.
But the pool’s heyday has long since passed. Take a
swim today, says former women’s team captain Lisa O’Dell Rapuano ’88, and all
you notice are the waves—which slow the swimmers down. Contemporary pools are
designed to reduce such turbulence.
The pool no longer qualifies as a venue for major
competitions: the NCAA championship, Ivy League championship, and others
require pools to have at least eight 50-meter lanes. “For competitive purposes,
the Ex Pool probably became obsolete 20 or 30 years ago,” says Steve Clark ’65,
a swimmer who won three Olympic gold medals during his time at Yale.
Rapuano and Clark are part of a group pushing for a
modern swimming facility. And after decades of talk about possible upgrades,
it’s starting to look like Yale could actually build a new pool. “The alumni,
the development office, the university—all of that appears to be in the
alignment that makes for a successful project,” says athletic director Tom
A committee is beginning to work out the details of what
the pool could look like, where it might go, and how much it will cost. In the
past, there was talk of building a new pool near the Yale Bowl or renovating
the Ex Pool. Now, both the alumni and the administration are interested in
building next to Payne Whitney.
“The obvious place for this new pool is at the
opposite end of the gymnasium from the Lanman Center,” says Vice President
Bruce Alexander ’65, who oversees campus development. Yale recently bought the
last parcel needed to complete the site.
The alumni group is advocating a “best in the East”
facility, with ten lanes and as many as three diving towers. Building a
first-class pool has “at least a hundred nuances,” Clark says. Getting those
right will be instrumental to getting financial support for a project that may
cost 30 to 40 million dollars.
And the project will depend on alumni support, as
Yale is not directly funding new construction right now. “This is a project
that everyone agrees is a good project for the university,” says Alexander, “but
it’s also a project that needs to be gift-funded.”