Swimming in Paris, anyone? Piscine Georges Vallerey

As Paris embarks in the preparation of the 2024 Olympic Games, let’s not forget the last Games hosted in 1924. 100 years on we celebrate Olympic history with one of Paris’ landmarks: Piscine Georges Vallerey.

Published by Caroline on 11/10/2017

Let’s travel back for a bit of olympic history. It may not be the prettiest of buildings, and one could walk past it without looking twice. But the beauty of Georges Vallerey swimming pool lies in its history and the heritage it left behind. The pool was built in 1923 specifically to host the swimming competitions of the 1924 Olympic Games in Paris. It’s situated on the 20th arrondissement and named after the french swimmer, George Vallerey.

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Image courtesy of Lertloy.com

Whilst a lot of the 1900 & 1924 olympic premises have either disappeared or are situated outside of the capital city, George Vallerey swimming pool is the last "living" example of an olympic infrastructure that Parisians still use for its originally built purpose. For a mighty EUR 3.50 entrance fee, one can enjoy a full day of swimming, paddling and also sunbathing (in the summer I might add!). In the winter, no panic, a retractable roof protects the swimmers from the bitterness of the cold weathers.

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Image courtesy of piscine-vallerey.fr

Leopold Beviere, the architect of the complex, had not planned this roof which was added during renovation in the 1980’s. But in the early 1920’s, the building was quite a revolution in terms of architecture in the landscape of Paris. With its height and eight towers, it gives off a sense of monumentality. It was very representative of the French's rise of interest in sports and swimming at the beginning of the 20th century.

Previously, the olympic swimming competitions had taken place in the sea, rivers, or like London's 1908 Games where they used a temporary 100m pool. But in 1924, things became a bit professional in the George Vallerey pool dare I say. 

For the first time races took place in a 50 meter pool, the standard length in olympic swimming. More than that, the pool was also divided into lanes for swimmers not to bump into each other; floating lanes thanks to some bottle corks! Yet again this has survived nowadays in competitions though in a bit of a different format one would admit. The same applies to the introduction of elevated starting blocks which gave athletes more speed at the start.

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Talking about athletes, it is impossible not to mention the performance of a man which was later to become a Hollywood star: Johnny Weissmuller. In this very pool, Johny won three gold medals in swimming and a bronze in water polo before embarking on a successful movie career (in which he went on to star as Tarzan in a dozen films). 

So it's time to get the speedos out and get prepared for the 2024 competition! A new complex is yet to be built for that but let's hope that like the George Vallerey pool, it makes history.

Words by Caroline Martinet

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