Fort Lauderdale Aquatic Center Celebrates Official Grand Opening in Style with Ribbon Cutting and Dive Challenge
Photo courtesy: Commissioner Steve Glassman
Fort Lauderdale Aquatic Center Celebrates Official Grand Opening In Style With Ribbon Cutting and Dive Challenge
Saturday marked the official Grand Opening of the Fort Lauderdale Aquatic Center, which showcased an exhibition by Olympic gold medalist Greg Louganis diving from the highest tower in the United States. Olympians, honorees, city officials, media, and the public came out to be part of this memorable event. It has been 95 years since the Casino pool was first built on Fort Lauderdale Beach. Since that time, the city has hosted thousands of swim meets and many thrilling diving competitions featured on ABC’s Wide World of Sports, which made the city famous.
Approximately 500 people attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony that included welcoming remarks by Mayor Dean Trantalis, whose support was integral to the City’s $50 million investment. City Commissioner Steve Glassman spoke about how proud he was to have the state-of-the-art aquatic center and the International Swimming Hall of Fame (ISHOF) Museum located in his district. Glassman emphasized that the aquatic center will not only serve the recreational pursuits of Fort Lauderdale residents but will be a destination for people from around the world who will compete or watch some of the worlds’ best at the new aquatic complex.
Donna de Varona, who set her first world record at the age of 13, and competed in the 1960 Rome Olympics and captured two gold medals at the 1964 Tokyo Games reminded the audience of those swimming legends that graced the pool decks of the original Casino Pool, including Esther Williams, Buster Crabbe, Johnny Weissmuller and Eleanor Holm. Fondly recalling the history of ISHOF, de Varona credited Buck Dawson, the visionary who made ISHOF what it is and helped make the Fort Lauderdale aquatic facility a reality. Olympic gold medalist and world-record holder Cullen Jones recalled the many times that he trained and raced in the previous Hall of Fame pools and said that Fort Lauderdale “felt like home.”
The International Swimming Hall of Fame (ISHOF) Museum was built in the mid-1960s and located adjacent to the Hall of Fame pool. In January, the Museum was demolished to make way for a future edition that will celebrate the achievements of swimmers and artistic swimmers, divers, water polo players, and lifesavers.
In conjunction with the ribbon cutting, ISHOF hosted a first of its kind Dive Challenge at the spectacular 27-meter dive tower. The City of Fort Lauderdale landmark is the only one in the western hemisphere. Another tower that is remotely similar and perhaps not nearly as grand is located in Zhao Qing, China. The city’s iconic structure is impressive when illuminated at night, but during the day it offers the only training facility in the western hemisphere where athletes can learn the skills of springboard, platform or high diving. Like the ISHOF Museum, the Fort Lauderdale Aquatic Center will attract athletes and visitors from throughout the world.
City officials welcomed an open-house crowd of residents and luminaries, many of whom had a long association with ISHOF and with one or both of the previous Casino and Hall of Fame Pools. Many Olympians turned out to tour the impressive aquatic center and to support ISHOF, including Fort Lauderdale resident Dara Torres. Torres is the first swimmer to represent the USA in five Olympic Games and at age 41, the oldest swimmer to earn a place on the US Olympic team. Torres, in her final Games at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, won a silver medal in three events.
World Aquatics Treasurer Dale Neuburger offered his congratulations on behalf of the international federation for aquatics that was previously known as FINA until December of 2022. Neuburger speculated that this new venue would be the host of many developmental and elite competitions in the very near future and was confident that the facilities, the city and the aquatic team were more than up to the task.
After the speeches and the ribbon cutting, the city’s longtime Aquatics Center Manager Laura Voet officially opened the new Fort Lauderdale Aquatic Center and its signature high diving tower. The ISHOF Dive Challenge welcomed one of the most legendary divers in Olympic history who was the winner of three NCAA titles representing the University of Miami.
As a 16-year-old, Greg Louganis competed at the 1976 Montreal Olympics, earning a silver medal in the 10-meter platform. The US boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics was a missed opportunity for Louganis. He won four Olympic gold medals, striking gold twice in the 3-meter springboard and again off the 10-meter platform at the 1984 Los Angeles and the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games. On Saturday, on the day before his 63rd birthday, Louganis impressed spectators with a flawless inward dive pike off the new 10-meter tower, proving that he’s still got it!
In addition to Louganis, 2016 Olympic silver medalist Sam Dorman demonstrated that his skills and flexibility hadn’t faded since his retirement. Dorman finished second in the Olympic 10-meter synchronized event in Rio seven years ago. On Saturday he decided to try his luck a bit higher, diving off the 15-meter tower, executing a beautiful dive as well. Other high divers in attendance were Ellie Smith, Maya Kelly, Ben Mattera, Braden Rumpit, and James Lichtenstein.
Other aquatic legends included:
- Mary Ellen Clark, who dove and called the aquatic center home in the 1990s and won two bronze Olympic medals in 1992 and 1996
- Wendy Boglioli, 1976 gold and bronze medalist, of the famous story, “The Last Gold”, and new Florida resident
- Ron O’Brien, eight-time USA Olympic diving coach and former head coach of the Fort Lauderdale Diving Team. Olympians coached by O’Brien have won five gold, three silver and five bronze medals.
- Tom Gompf, 1964 Olympic bronze medalist on the 10-meter platform, and the author of his memoir “A Life Aloft”.
- Clark Koukurek, a professional high diver, was the “top” performer, diving off the 27-meter tower. Just like the end of every Fourth of July fireworks celebration, the best was saved for last. Koukurek was the signal caller from the highest point for the finale. Seven athletes completed a synchronized dive from five different platforms, simultaneously, impressing the crowd just a little bit more and convincing everyone that new pages in history were soon to be written.