Monday, June 22, 2009

Commonwealth Games vies for spotlight

The “organized chaos” of the state’s largest outdoor swim meet is under way today, as 550 swimmers converge on Waynesboro’s War Memorial Pool in Ridgeview Park.

“If you haven’t seen a swim meet before, it’s like, ‘Oh my gosh, how do they do all of this?’ ” said Robby Rule, Commonwealth Games co-director.

Competitors from age six to 18 will stroke through the water in rapid succession. Those waiting for races will be in poolside lines as dozens of races run during three days, Rule said, putting more than 50 volunteers in motion to keep everything in order.

Organizers in recent years estimated that 800 swimmers and their families brought about $80,000 to the city during the weekend. The impact won’t be as great this year, meet co-director David Bihl said, citing fewer registered swimmers.

“It’s still a lot,” Bihl said, adding that more teams are attending than before, with each bringing fewer swimmers.

“We don’t know if that’s a reflection of the economy or a reflection of the competition between meets,” Bihl said.

For the first time, the Commonwealth Games will compete with three other Virginia meets in a span of two weeks, including meets in Lynchburg and Winchester.

“We have always had this weekend all to ourselves in Virginia,” Bihl said.

Nevertheless, in addition to local swimmers with the Shenandoah Marlin Aquatic Club, teams will travel from as far as Virginia Beach to compete.

“Everybody who comes here enjoys the meet because the town treats everyone real well,” Rule said.

“We’ll be running a nice, efficient pool,” Bihl said.

And SMAC swimmers may be primed to break state records, said Rule, himself the father of two daughters who will compete. The local squad has 11 swimmers ranked in the state’s various Top 10 race lists.

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