Pan Am Games at the IU Natatorium

The 1987 Pan American Games represented one of Indianapolis’ biggest steps “in its quest to be known as the world’s amateur sports capitol.” During the Pan Am Games, nearly 4500 amateur athletes from 38 member nations of the Pan American Sports Organization came to the city to compete in 30 sports. Some of the most exciting events took place at the Natatorium, which held the diving, swimming, synchronized swimming, and water polo competitions. Its main competition pool is the largest in the United States.

Scheduled to compete in the Pan Am’s swimming events was Costa Rican swim star Silvia Poll, who, at sixteen years old and six feet two inches tall, was just starting her international career. However, she surprised even herself with her multiple medals, becoming the first triple gold medalist to win three separate events at the Pan Am Games. In the 100-meter backstroke she swam to a new games record of 1 minute, 2.18 seconds. Her happiness at winning was shared by Costa Rica, which now had its first gold at the Pan Am games. Poll had lost her first event to a young and relatively unknown swimmer from the United States, Jenny Thompson.

Overall, U.S. athletes had great success in the water, bringing home the most medals for all of the Pan American Games events held at the Natatorium, including the gold in men’s water polo.

Since its construction in 1982, many more star swimmers have competed at the Natatorium in several Olympic Trials, NCAA championships, and other national events. These include Olympians like Michael Phelps and Amy Van Dyken, who commented in 1998, “I think it’s the most beautiful pool out there, and I’ve swum very well in Indianapolis.” After the Pan Am Games, Jenny Thompson also went on to compete and medal in several Olympic games.

The aura of the Natatorium is matched by features that contribute to swimmers’ fast times. These include its deep water, good visibility, and wide lanes. Its stellar reputation among the swimming world has also benefitted Indiana University – Purdue University, Indianapolis, whose campus it sits on, as well as the city of Indianapolis. As the pool's planners thought, if they were going to spend the money to build a natatorium, then why not make it one of the best? This idea has clearly paid off, as the Natatorium continues to serve the local community and the international swimming community.

Images

Balloon Release at the Opening Ceremonies of the Pan American Games, August 15, 1987

Balloon Release at the Opening Ceremonies of the Pan American Games, August 15, 1987

The Opening and Closing Ceremonies of the 10th Pan American Games took place at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Balloons were released into the air over a Walt Disney Castle constructed at the the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on August 15, 1987. Image Courtesy of Indiana Historical Society. | Source: Indianapolis Recorder Collection | Creator: The Indianapolis Recorder View File Details Page

The Mascot of the Pan Am Games on Campus

The Mascot of the Pan Am Games on Campus

Amigo, the mascot of the Pan American Games poses with several students in front of the Indiana University Natatorium, July 1986. Image Courtesy of IUPUI Special Collections. | Source: IUPUI University Library Special Collections and Archvies | Creator: IUPUI Publications View File Details Page

Aerial View of the Physical Education Building and the IU Natatorium on IUPUI's Campus, 1985

Aerial View of the Physical Education Building and the IU Natatorium on IUPUI's Campus, 1985

Photo Courtesy of IUPUI Special Collections | Source: IUPUI University Library Special Collections and Archives | Creator: IUPUI Publications View File Details Page

Babies Learn to Swim, 1984

Babies Learn to Swim, 1984

The Natatorium also serves Indianapolis residents and the faculty and students of IUPUI by offering classes and lap swims in its instructional pool. Image Courtesy of IUPUI Special Collections. | Source: IUPUI University Library Special Collections and Archives | Creator: IUPUI Publications View File Details Page

Natatorium Interior, 1982

Natatorium Interior, 1982

Inside of the Natatorium, filled with spectators, prior to the start of a swim meet during the Summer of 1982. Image Courtesy of IUPUI Special Collections. | Source: IUPUI University Library Special Collections and Archives | Creator: IUPUI Publications View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

“Pan Am Games at the IU Natatorium,” Discover Indiana, accessed November 23, 2017, http://indyhist.iupui.edu/items/show/5.
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