back to article Portsmouth redefines the Olympic-sized swimming pool

Portsmouth has delivered a serious blow to attempts to have the Olympic-sized swimming pool recognised as an official unit of measurement, by shaving two inches off the standard length. Despite efforts by we here at El Reg and, notably, the BBC, to promote the handy volume, Portsmouth Council has blown it big time by punting …


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  1. Ben Smith

    Why isn't this headline news ?

    After all, at a time of unprecedented tension in the Middle East, the economy gradually falling to pieces, our being involved in a "conflict" that has gone on longer than WW2, I can see that a 50m pool that is "short" by the critical amount of 2 inches which will doubtless cause severe grief to a multitude of people should in fact be our top priority.

    Sheesh. Some people need to put things into a sense of perspective.

    I wonder how many jobs will be cut at this council due to lack of funds. Frankly luxuries such as Olympic swimming pools or Olympic anything are irrelevancies.

    1. Sarah Bee (Written by Reg staff)

      Re: Why isn't this headline news ?

      Who suggested it's a matter of life and death? It's an embarrassing costly issue and silly mistake. It's not being presented as anything else.

      God I hate meaningless relativism.

      1. Astarte

        Spot-on Sarah

        Didn't Einstein say that?

        1. Chemist

          Er, don't know but he did say ..

          "The problem with chemistry is that it's too difficult for chemists " or similar

    2. Anonymous Coward

      Re: Why isn't this headline news ?

      You're missing the point - two inches is important as your post has demonstrated.

      If you had two extra inches of humour, you may have been able to see the global problem that redefining the Olympic swimming pool as a unit of measure has.

      If your head was two inches less up your own ass, you may even be able to see daylight....

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Paris Hilton

        Hands up...

        ... any man who wouldn't complain if someone tried taking two inches away from him.

        Don't all rush, now.

        (Paris, because watching any of her attempts to be sexy is apt to induce the above effect.)

    3. Anonymous Coward

      It's like you Ben

      Short two inches of being something.

  2. Locky

    Been done before

    The old "Olympic pool" in Leeds (which has just been demolished) was about the same size too small, apparently becuase they forgot to add in the width of the tiles.

    Good to see we're getting better at building these things. Lucky that it's too cold and wet in the UK for a month-long outdoor based event, so we'll never have to actually host the games.


    1. John Sturdy

      And Cambridge's old pool, too

      I've heard the same story about Cambridge's old Parkside pool.

      But what it lacked in length, it more than made up for in extreme ugliness. I presume it got some architectural awards when it was built.

      1. Joel 1

        What about Jesus Green?

        Well the outdoor pool at Jesus Green is 100yds long. Not international standard, but makes swimming a "last couple of lengths" a bit more interesting and requiring more forward planning....

      2. fixit_f

        The new parkside pool was a clusterf**k dimwit design too

        It's all glass and there's no railings or other things to stop old men coming right up to the window and fiddling with themselves - which they do from time to time. It's known locally as the "Paedo pool."

        Also, a few months after it opened they had a nudist group did some sessions there - so they had to block the windows off with cardboard. But forgot that the wrinkly old buggers were still visible when they jumped off the high diving board, which actually caused at least one car crash if I remember rightly.

      3. AlanB

        And Cambridge's old pool, too

        Cambridge's old Parkside pool was 33 1/3 m long, nowhere near the Olympic 50m, with or without timing boards or tiles.

        See also

  3. Marky W

    El Reg measures

    As much as an 'Olympic-sized Swimming Pool' only makes sense if you have a defined depth, too. AFAIK that's not part of the Olympic Pool spec, so it's a shoddy unit at best.

    Using Linguini as a measure of length is of course perfectly acceptable.

    1. Roger Greenwood

      Err . .

      I think you will find that FINA have in fact specified the minimum depth, and the lane width, and a host of other parameters if you want an Olympic pool. Length is critical of course, but depth is even more important when comparing volumes (Sheffield varies in depth up to 3m in the centre). You would think that the architect could have looked it up first, before revving up the digger.

      1. kissingthecarpet

        He must have been cheap

        Hard to find architects prepared to dig their own swimming pool( is that the architect equivalent of eating your own dog food?)

    2. William Towle

      Defined depth?

      "An Olympic Pool must be 25m wide with a depth of 2.0m (min) at all parts of the course and must be 50m in length - between touch panels if they are used. The 25m width is to allow for 8 lanes to be 2.5m wide minimum with 2 spaces of 2.5m wide outside lane 1 and 8.

      So this is 2.5 x 8 lanes = 20m + (2.5m x 2) = 25m in total."

      Works for me.

      (And raises the suggestion they don't use touch panels at this one, surely...?)

    3. Michael Jennings

      There's a minimum depth

      "At least two metres deep" I think, so there is a minimum volume for an allowable Olympic pool, but no maximum volume.

      1. The Real Tony Smith

        I'm trying to write about swimming pools and you want a title?

        Given that there are only 2 measurements defined and the 3rd is ambiguous really destroys this as a unit of volume.

        Unless of course you make it at least as deep as 2 elephants, half fill it, then submerge aforesaid elephant in it and measure the water displacement to find the volume of an elephant!

        Thus we can use the same descriptor as a measure of either volume or weight depending on the context :-)

        OK, I'll get my coat.......

    4. The First Dave

      @El Reg measures

      Personally, I would have thought that the lack of two extra lanes, as mentioned in the article, would have a rather greater effect on volume?

    5. Anonymous Coward

      Having separate units for length and volume isn't really necessary.

      The real SI units just take the unit for length and cube it to get volume, that being the way that spacetime works. So I think it should be noted that one cubic linguine is equal to 5.2406 grapefruit, or approximately one micro-olympic swimming pool.

  4. Gideon 1

    Easy peasy

    Just redesign the time boards to be millimetres thick.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Up

      Exactly what I was thinking

      Maybe 20 years ago, the time boards were quite thick, but one would think that today, these things could be made waffer thin, no?

      1. Anonymous Coward

        Waffer Thin?

        Surely a wafer thin board wouldn't make any difference?

        Just one.

        Wafer thin.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      They are

      They are only millimetres thick.

      1. James Micallef Silver badge

        wafer-thin time boards

        Just remove the tiling, and put the time boards in the indentation so they're flush with the pool edge. Sure, it's extra work and cost, but if th elack is really costing the council that much, why not?

        Otherwise, it's all a storm in a tea-pool

    3. Danny 14 Silver badge


      smash bits out of each end to accommodate FLUSH FITTING timing boards.

  5. Sceptical Bastard


    Hang your head in shame, Portsmouth Council! As if your town didn't have a bad enough reputation already...

  6. Sabine Miehlbradt

    Not again

    You know - this happened more than 30 years ago in my home town.

    That indoor, heated pool was Olympic size, too - until they put the tiles in. Goodbye to hosting serious competitions when times swum cannot be officially registered.

    Oh well - left more time for the local schools' swimming classes. The pool still stands - it's the roof that came down a few years ago and dunked a couple of swimmers in the deep end (4+ m)

  7. Annihilator Silver badge

    I'm confused

    "shaving two inches off the standard length"

    "the pool is the required 50 metres long"

    I'm confused, what's an inch? What's a metre? I know only of linuine and double-decker buses. This article means nothing to me (aaaaaaaaaaah, Vienna)

  8. Anonymous Coward

    Strip the tiles and build a custom board as a replacement

    With a sufficient budget a decent engineering shop can build boards that are less than 2in thick.

    It will be cheaper than redoing the whole pool anyway.

    1. jubtastic1

      If only it was that simple

      Alas, Olympic timing boards must be an inch thick and must sit an inch proud of the Olympic grade tiles and grout.

      There's no point crying and screaming about it now, you should have carefully read the small print before you built the thing, it's not that hard, just a correctly sized hole in the ground really.

  9. Mystic Megabyte


    You would need 500mtr of 2"x4" and 20kg of 6" nails, then cut the .........

  10. Anonymous Coward


    I coughed up an olympic swimming pool of coffee over my keyboard after reading this.

    I never get bored of reading about council muppetry, weasel-wording and blatant spinning.

  11. andy mcandy

    council idiots, again

    recess the pads into the pool tiles. not difficult. even a local authority should be able to cock that one up!

    (however, maybe not. my experience contracting for LA's doesnt fill me with confidence)

  12. Thomas 4

    Vulcanistic Pachydermic Calculations

    1000m3 = 217 Elephants * 180 = 180,000 m3 or 39060 Elephants

    That's the easy stuff out of the way, now comes the crunch:

    2 inches = 5.08 cm or 0.058m

    50 - 0.058 = 49.942m x 25m x 2.88m = 3595.824 m3

    Now, drawing on info from the first pachyderm conversion article = 100 m3 = 21 elephants, meaning each elephant has a volume of 4.76 m3.

    This shocking info reveals that by shaving a mere 2 inches off an Olympic swimming pool, Portsmouth are depriving their swimmers of almost an entire elephant. Disgusting.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      5.08cm is not 0.058m...

      However .0508*25*2.88 = 36.576m3, surely we are missing 9 elephants?

      1. Mike Richards Silver badge


        Yes, but what's that in brontosauri*? (the standard unit of comparison for small boys)

        * yes, yes, I know it's an apatosaurus.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        IT Angle

        How do you get nine elephants in a swimming pool?

        If you answered "smear them in a two-inch thick layer across the end walls", the RSPCA would like a word with you...

  13. Ian Tresman

    Ditch the touch boards

    Ditch the 2-inch thick touch boards, and replace with zero-thickness infra-red beam sensors, or resistivity-sensitive mesh painted on the ends. This looks like a trivial problem with a trivial solution.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Restivity sensitive mesh

      That would work wonderfully so long as you make sure it doesn't get wet... ah.

  14. thejackle
    Paris Hilton

    What's an inch.

    Apparently an inch is about 8cm.

    Paris, obviously, because she'd always spot if a couple of inches were missing.

    1. sT0rNG b4R3 duRiD

      Wishful thinking...

      How on earth did you get 8cm for an inch? Some pop culture reference I am not familiar with? (One inch is 2,54 cm exactly).

      At any rate, let's be proper Europeans here and just stay metric now, shall we? As you have just seen, it's a lot easier than having to worry about doing conversions....

      1. Someone Else Silver badge
        Paris Hilton's all about perception

        Of course, Paris...why do you think?

  15. fishman


    Just cut out a touch board thickness deep piece out of each wall, and then the touch board surface will be flush with the wall.

  16. Anonymous Coward

    Setting them in the walls

    Would work assuming they havent gone cheapskate on the construction behind the tiles.

    Its the heady mix of private operator not knowing what its doing (we dont exactly have many 50m olympic pool experts in the UK) and a council leisure department that would struggle to blow itself up in a well layed minefield,

    Anon as I have to work with these kind of muppets.

    1. andy mcandy


      so do i, but im out of here in 4 weeks and three days!

      am i and my fellow contractors counting the hours? YES :)

  17. Anonymous Coward

    Insult to injury

    Portsmouth City Council closed the Victoria swimming pool, which was up to the job, which had tiried seating down both sides of the pool for spectators at competions. (at a guess 200+)

    The victoria pool was in the centre of town, had a bus stop outside of it, could be walked to by most people in under 30 minutes, and was around the corner from the main bus station and railway station.

    Mountbatten centre, not only being the wrong length, can only be got to via motor car by most people, has seating 1 floor up from the pool for about 12 spectators, the walkway around the pool is slippy when wet (wet at swiming pool who could have thought that would happen!). And a lot of tax payers money was spent on it/

    Of course the victoria pool, which needed some minor maint work, also happens to be on an ideal site for property developers, surely a coincidence!.


    PCC also flattened the listed building outside the dock yard that had been the regional gymnastics centre, which will no doubt help our olympic hopefuls for 2012!

    1. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge


      Victoria pool was 25 m long

      At least it was when we were forced to go there and swim by the school

      did have one advantage.. the deep end was 13' deep so we could play "see who can hide on the bottom the longest"

      My mate Barry is still there.........

      1. Anonymous Coward

        Length Victoria Swiming Pool

        The 25m bit of the pool was when they moved the boom down from the shallow end, creating the learner/paddling pool at the top end.

        They also had the advantage of life guards that actually whatched what the swimers where doing, rather than standing in groups chatting to their mates (as I have seen at mountbatten the couple of times I've been there. (I used to go swiming at victoria most week days, when not away from home)

      2. Jim Morrow

        evolution in portsmouth

        i realise portsmouth's a bit backward and has a low gene pool but have the locals really got respiratory systems that haven't evolved beyond gills yet?

  18. Aristotles slow and dimwitted horse Silver badge

    Oh Portsmouth...

    After 9 years spent within your cold and uncomforting breast, how much do I now miss thee having been separated from you by a decade...

    ...about as much as I miss a 4" gaping hole in my head put there by a rampaging Rhinocerous (ahem... the same 4" which in El Reg weights and measures is equivalent to about a 3/4 cubit grasp of Myan putty).

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      This rampaging rhinoceros...

      Was it irate, or maybe horny?

      Sorry, mine's the safari jacket.

  19. Chris Cartledge

    It's Easy

    It is easy to get things like this wrong. You only have to think of the mirror on the Hubble telescope ($2 billion repair mission) or wiring on on the Airbus A380 (cost €2.8 billion) to remember that it has happened before and it will happen again. Show tolerance to the anally retentive project manager who wants everything checked - it is the only way to ensure no slip ups. When doing carpentry I measure twice to cut once but I still get it wrong...

    1. Not That Andrew

      You're doing it wrong!

      You're doing it wrong! It's measure THREE times, cut once.

      1. Darryl

        Still wrong

        It's ACTUALLY measure twice, cut once, measure again, curse loudly, drive to the store to purchase more material, come home, measure twice, cut once, measure once, curse a little more, install it anyways with a little bit jammed in the end to fill in the unfilled area, and pretend it didn't happen.

  20. Anonymous Coward

    This is a bunch of men,

    and you're asking them for a length measurement.

    Of course its going to be two inches shorter than they say.

  21. Charlie Clark Silver badge

    Unforeseen consequences

    I'm with Lester on this - cock-ups on this scale (sic) can have lots of unforeseen consequences. With such a slapdash approach to measurements more "accidents" like Ariane 5 are bound to happen as people work with different understandings of measurements. Portsmouth council is putting people's lives at risk!

    A possible solution would be to equip the aquatic centre (make it sound fishal) with a relativity device which could cause space-time to warp around the pool to make up the difference.

  22. MarsMug

    Not the first time this has happened

    I'm not so sure - I've heard many stories about swimming pools being too short for exactly the same reason - I've been told that the University of Nottingham's pool is 2cm too short to be used for short course records, Coventry University's is 4 inches too short and the University of Bath's pool is 2mm too short.

    I struggle to believe that the same mistake can be made so many times.

    1. iMacThere4iAm

      [citation needed]

      I've heard the same claim about Bath Uni's 50m pool, and a quick [popular search engine] reveals other instances around the world.

      It seems too common a cock-up to be true, has anyone ever verified any of these likely urban legends?

      My guess is that many of these pools would not conform to the Olympic standard for some other reason; Bath for example has only 8 lanes where 10 are required.

      Subsequently, stories about it being two tile-thicknesses too short emerge amongst students/locals and are perpetuated in campus mythology and occasionally shoddy journalism simply because it's a better story.

    2. Anonymous Coward

      You "struggle to believe that the same mistake can be made so many times"?

      Are you new to this planet?

  23. Sir Crispalot

    Disgruntled of Portsmouth

    As an unfortunate resident (NOT native) of the aforementioned city, I wouldn't recommend anyone use the facilities at the Mountbatten Centre regardless of whether they meet the requirements.

    The staff there are largely useless dullards. How they can double-book a squash court with their new all-singing, all-dancing computer booking system is beyond me. Maybe the council designed that too ...

    1. Anonymous Coward

      No Surprise

      As its probably one of the "offerings" from the usual suspects in the UK fitness software industry.

      Dont expect your personal data to be either secure or encrypted, as it wont be.

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Pool length

    So if having the timing boards makes the length 2" too short ... then doesn't that if someone swim more than one length then they have swum an extra 2" on each length. Surely the timing pads must be recessed into the ends. Also, from what I remember from coverage of some of the almost dead heats in recent Olympics the timing is triggered when the pad is pushed back - so even if pads stick out by 2" that may not be where the timing point is.

    As for swimming pool designs ... remember visiting Imperial College years ago when applying to Universities and being shown round in a group by a student who pointed out their sports centre with the swimming pool in the basement ... and was also notable by having no structure above ground level - explanation was that it had been designed by the engineering dept and it was only after building had started that someone realized that when they spec-ed the foundations they'd forgotten the weight of the water in the swimming pool.

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Didn't this happen in Leeds, with their "International" Pool? I seem to recall there was some sort of scandal about it, all a long long time ago now, mind.

  26. smudge

    Ignorant questions

    Presumably timing boards are usually flush with the end walls of the pool?

    Because if not the pool would be two inches shorter at the surface than it would be a foot or two underneath the surface.

    Or do the timing boards extend a long way down?

  27. Cyclist

    What's the problem?

    Instead of swimming it in a direct A-to-B straight line, Olympic-brained officials could introduce an arc in the lane markers to add the necessary additional 2" to the swum distance. In theory competitors could zig-zag their way up the pool and do a 400m event in just one length, if enough effort & imagination went into it.

    Send my consultancy fee to the usual address.

  28. Timothy Creswick

    Some Context

    Men's 50m freestyle WR stands at 20.91s, an average speed of 2.39m/s.

    If the pool had been 2 inches shorter (0.0508m), the record would be 20.89s.

    The world record has frequently been broken by 2/100ths of a second, so I guess it's easy to understand why it's a big deal.

    Having said that, I'm sure I read somewhere that designers of competition sports venues deliberately try and 'tweak' the design within the rules in order to maximise the possibility of records being broken at that venue, as this attracts more media attention and revenue.

  29. Anonymous Coward

    Sloppy Reporting

    Reporting without checking the facts? These reports are quite simply factually incorrect. Passing them on without checking the truth is poor reporting.

    1. Sarah Bee (Written by Reg staff)

      Re: Sloppy Reporting


      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Sloppy reporting

        Basic facts are inconsistent:

        "the pool is the required 50 metres long, but someone forgot that you have to stick the time boards at each end"

        "now we're being told the pool is two inches too short"

        This would make each time board one inch thick. A fairly quick check of the facts would indicate this isn't the case.

  30. Mike Richards Silver badge


    The problem with getting the Olympic Swimming Pool recognised as an official unit is that you still don't have a reference pool cast from platinum alloy. As soon as you can get yourself one of those everyone will be able to bring their pools to the Register and have them measured properly.

  31. Daniel Voyce


    ....this is botchable? Get some Birmingham Contractors in - We'd botch the hell out of it!

  32. taxman

    The alternative

    Ah the heady days of Victoria Park and the smell of whatever came out of the Guildhall when a band was visitiing!

    Now, how about doing the most sensible thing and use the natural alternative. Forget about going up and down and up and down and up and down (to whatever distance). Just nip down to Southsea and use The Solent. Variable straight distances. No probs.

    Another couple of these and the ideas will flow even faster!

  33. Anonymous Cowherder

    The title is required, and must contain letters and/or digits.

    Oldham's pool is just shy of Olympic standard too.

    Stupid useless council can't even get a hole in the ground right.

  34. deshepherd


    "Having said that, I'm sure I read somewhere that designers of competition sports venues deliberately try and 'tweak' the design within the rules in order to maximise the possibility of records being broken at that venue, as this attracts more media attention and revenue."

    Quite true ... remember at time of Beijing Olympics there were some articles on the design of its swimming pool. They'd used several new techniques to try to eliminate the waves generated by the swimmers from reflecting back into their paths. Pool was, I think, a bit deeper than normal race pool to delay the effect of any pressure wave which bounced off the bottom, lane dividers consisted of lots of discs that would absorb the wave rather than floats that reflected it and as well as the empty lane on either side the water level was flush to the side of the pool so a wave would simply go over the edge into drainage rather than relect. Apparently any distubance on the surface of the water makes some difference to the times so all these effects gave the conditions (along with the advances in swimsuit technology) for super fast times.

    I think there were similar considerations to the athletics track. Seem to recall that Usain Bolt saying in the 200m he didn't slow down to celebrate like he did in the 100m as he realized that the track was so fast that he had the opportunity to better Michael Johnson's world record which had stood for years and some people thought to stand for many more.

  35. Sabine Miehlbradt

    Don't panic

    Apparently, councils can be even more stupid than that.

    The town of Trencin, Slovakia actually managed to build a pool with no fresh or waste water connections at all.,1518,748409,00.html

  36. kissingthecarpet
    Thumb Up

    An inch "proud"

    That expression always makes me laugh...

  37. tony trolle


    should of built it a foot longer and had movable panels.


  38. Mips
    Jobs Horns

    Olympic storm in a teacup

    As of 17:00hrs on 1 March it was declared that the pool is the correct size with the time boards inserted.

    The another thing is, was it wise to use a variable quantity like this for a universal measurement? With time boards, without time boards. What if the time boards are not 50mm thick? Did you allow when referencing volume that the pool has 10 lanes but only 8 are used in competition? Bad decision.

    On the other hand I am still pushing for the unit of "house per day" as used by the tabloid press in "wind turbine produces enough electricity to supply 1000 houses per day" to be named the Godzilla. This is based on the fact that Godzilla can consume one house per day or five cars or 20 people.

  39. David Beck

    The telcos would call this an "unlimited" sized pool?

    The council has the wrong idea, they should call it an "unlimited" sized pool, using the phone network definition.

  40. fangster

    It is Olympic size!!

    "We expect an International Olympic Committee ruling on the matter in due course."

    Will the statement on the council's website suffice?

    Will someone at Vulture Central now get round to updating/correcting the article?

    Although admittedly, it not being true does take aware from the article somewhat. Maybe a follow-up on the gullible media?

  41. Michael Dunn

    Adjustable length

    Why not adjust the temperature of the water to ensure that expansion/contraction of the pool structure hits the correct length?

    And, BTW, Lester, to be pedantic, you really must learn to use the accusative of pronouns after prepositions:) Otherwise you just sound American.

    Fowler in the pocket, as usual

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