Hangzhou on top of the world

Cheers, hoorays, whistling and Mexican waves filled the “Little Lotus” stadium on the last day of the 14th FINA World Swimming Championships (25m) in Hangzhou. The heat, blended with sweat and a whiff of disinfectant, seemed to be rising endlessly from the pool where thousands of eyes were fixed.Find the more Hangzhou City news from SHINE.

This was the final of the men’s 1,500-meter freestyle. No Chinese athletes were taking part but a cleaner was asking if Sun Yang, probably the best-known Chinese swimmer, was on TV. She wanted to shoot a video of the broadcast with her phone.

Outside the stadium, the fried chicken hawkers were staring at the television. The cold did not stop them from marveling at the athletes’ strength and speed.

Everybody knew the significance of the event, an international short-course swimming competition held every two years since 1993. Hangzhou is the third Chinese city to host it, after Hong Kong (1999) and Shanghai (2006).

It was an occasion for the city to rehearse and prepare for the 2022 Asian Games and to showcase the city and its level of service to visitors and a much wider audience in front of the television.

At the closing ceremony, the mascot “Jelly,” a blue-gray jellyfish with goggles presented to the world by triple Olympic Champion Sun during the opening, was handed to a child swimmer from Hangzhou Chen Jinglun Sports School.

The swimming pool at the school used to be the training base for many Hangzhou-born world champions including Sun, the first Chinese Olympic swimming gold medalist, gold medalist at 2012 London Olympics Ye Shiwen, and gold medalist at the 2015 Kazan World Aquatics Championships Fu Yuanhui.

The championships took place from December 11 to 16 and attracted nearly 1,000 athletes from 178 countries. Nine world records and 22 match records were broken. Over 450 reporters from around the world were at the event.

“Very positive. The FINA family had a memorable time in a dynamic and modern city. Our national federations, their athletes, coaches and officials worked and competed in an outstanding venue. They were supported by an immense crowd,” Julio Maglione, FINA’s president, told a press conference on December 16.

The venue was designed to be a tennis stadium but was temporarily revamped to accommodate an international swimming competition.

The 10,000-seat arena is composed of 24 entwined steel petals on its exterior and eight steel petals on the roof, which can be opened when needed.

To save costs and ensure minimum alterations to the original design, the warm-up pool was built outside as a temporary structure together with locker rooms. A removable stainless steel 25-meter by 25-meter competition pool was shipped from Italy three months ahead of the event and placed on top of the tennis court.

The temperature inside needed to be maintained at 26 degrees Celsius, 8 degrees higher than in a tennis stadium, so a floor heating system was installed in the pool deck.

The seating area remained unchanged and the audience was able to see the races from any angle, including both ends of the pool.

“I’ve never seen the 25m (championships) before. It’s a great job that they’ve put a swimming pool inside a tennis court,” Alan Adams, who worked at the organization committee’s information service center, told Shanghai Daily.

Adams, a sports journalist who has covered eight Olympic Games and three Asian Games, was hired to train staff at the center to work on press releases which would later be updated on the event’s website in Chinese and English.

The press room was on the first floor of the venue, next to the mixed zone where athletes exit and are interviewed. It had 136 workstations with computer connections and televisions showing live broadcasts.

Adams said he was most impressed by the quality of the volunteers. “I have many volunteers working for me. They did an amazing job. They have great language skills, which helped us a lot at the mixed zone.”

More than 1,500 volunteers took part in the championships, most of them university students.

“The preparation work started early, since March this year. We received over 5,000 applications when the recruitment opened in September 2018. Candidates must have previous volunteering experiences, and also a competency in English,” said Xiang Ying of the Hangzhou Voluntary Service Instruction Center, who led the team of press room volunteers.

The volunteers included 19 native speakers in Polish, Russian, Korean and Malaysian.

Compared to other volunteering work, Xiang said the championships required more professional skills and longer hours. “The races (heats and finals) are held either early in morning or late at night. So our volunteers have to arrive earlier (than the swimmers) and stay even after all races are over,” Xiang said.

Chen Dian, a volunteer at the doping control station, said she was among the last to leave the venue every day. She and her colleagues accompanied and assisted the athletes to do their drug tests after the races.

“Athletes who break records at the heats or those who receive medals in the finals need to be tested by their urine and blood samples. Most of the work is done in the afternoon and evening, until around 11 and 12 at night,” Chen said.

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