IN THE TODDLER pool, babies are gurgling and blinking determinedly in the arms of young male swimming instructors. In the heated indoor pool, older women taking a water aerobics class splash and stretch to the strains of It’s Raining Men. Outside, in the 50-metre pool, a few primary school children are doing time trials for their coming school carnival. Some swim purposefully, but others, whose tummies and thighs wobble as they walk, underscore the growing disquiet about rising obesity levels. About 20 seagulls in a line are dipping and drinking from the pool’s edge. On this clear sunny morning at the Monash Aquatic Centre in Melbourne’s south-east, none of these people has taken much notice of the national swimming squad members who alternately glide or churn up and down the outdoor pool.
Why not? Maybe because in the water everyone looks pretty much the same, but what about the array of equipment set up by sports scientist Megan Jones so she can measure the swimmers’ height, weight, skin folds (how lean they are) and lactate levels? (Lactic acid builds up in the blood when the body is working hard at speed.) What about when, after every set of several hundred metres, the swimmers draw themselves out of the pool in one flowing movement so Jones can take a pinprick of blood for the lactate measurement? It should be hard to miss the superb physiques of the elite athletes, muscles sculpted by hundreds of hours training, but barely a head turns. Social commentator Craig McGregor once wrote that one of the great things about Australia was its egalitarian beach culture, where judges and plumbers could sit side by side, wearing only their Speedos, without a flicker of self-consciousness.
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