Does Michael Phelps just hold it?

You know you want to know: Do swimmers pee in the pool? The first in our new series of Olympics rude questions

Topics: 2012 Summer Olympics,

Does Michael Phelps just hold it?Michael Phelps (Credit: Reuters/Toby Melville)

On Monday, Missy Franklin competed in two Olympic races in 15 minutes. She barely had time to get from one pool to the next, let alone make a pit stop along the way.

So it made us wonder: Since toilet trips can be a hassle – especially for those immersed in water and sheathed in nylon, might letting loose in the pool just be easier, particularly for elite swimmers in the thick of training? What’s really going on underwater? More than you might want to know, it turns out.

“They don’t want to get out and miss the set,” said Bill, 28, a Canadian swimmer who raced at the Olympic Trials this year and spoke to us on the condition that we wouldn’t use his last name.

Bill spent his childhood swimming for club teams and raced for a Division I school in the U.S. before returning to Canada to train for national-level butterfly and freestyle events. Although he did not admit to peeing in the pool, he knows others who did – in secret, mostly.

“No one talked about it,” Bill said.

One longtime teammate revealed his covert ritual to Bill after years of swimming together.

“He would jump in the pool, swim one lap, pee and then continue with practice,” Bill said.

You Might Also Like

The decision to forgo a proper toilet is more complex than it might seem, however. Status and time of year can factor into a swimmer’s habit.

“If you’re a freshman, you’re scared, so you don’t want to get out of the pool,” Bill explained.

At the Olympics, the situation is different. By the time swimmers arrive at the games they’re well rested due to a process called tapering, in which training is decreased over several weeks. A quick break during practice or warmup at the Olympics is no big deal.

“It’s not like you’re going to break down muscle, so you have time to get out of the pool,” Bill said.

As for location, it doesn’t matter much. Swimmers don’t mind polluting pools that aren’t their own. On intense training trips out of town, Bill said swimmers still peed in the pool.

“Some people just get used to it,” he said.

But all of that urine can have serious repercussions. Mick Nelson, the facilities development director for USA Swimming, travels the country talking to coaches about the importance of pool cleanliness. Nelson said he thinks everyone is peeing in pools: Kids, competitive swimmers and adult exercisers.

“Coaches are self-conscious talking about it in front of swimmers,” Nelson said.

Air quality inside natatoriums relies on water quality. Once the pool water becomes contaminated, no ventilation system can save the air around it. The cost of a new water treatment system to improve air quality in an indoor pool can cost up to $30,000, according to Nelson.

“Sweat and urine have an ammonia base. It stops the chlorine from reacting with the water properly,” Nelson explained.

If one person urinates in the pool, it’s enough to have an effect on 10,000 gallons of water for 12 days. Since most pools are 100,000 gallons or more, it’s crucial for pools to enforce no-peeing rules.

“You only need 2 or 3 percent of people to ignore this rule and I’ve got a problem,” Nelson said.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Martyna Blaszczyk/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 1

    Pond de l'Archeveche - hundreds thousands of padlocks locked to a bridge by random couples, as a symbol of their eternal love. After another iconic Pont des Arts bridge was cleared of the padlocks in 2010 (as a safety measure), people started to place their love symbols on this one. Today both of the bridges are full of love locks again.

    Anders Andersson/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 2

    A bird's view of tulip fields near Voorhout in the Netherlands, photographed with a drone in April 2015.

    Aashit Desai/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 3

    Angalamman Festival is celebrated every year in a small town called Kaveripattinam in Tamil Nadu. Devotees, numbering in tens of thousands, converge in this town the day after Maha Shivratri to worship the deity Angalamman, meaning 'The Guardian God'. During the festival some of the worshippers paint their faces that personifies Goddess Kali. Other indulge in the ritual of piercing iron rods throughout their cheeks.

    Allan Gichigi/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 4

    Kit Mikai is a natural rock formation about 40m high found in Western Kenya. She goes up the rocks regularly to meditate. Kit Mikai, Kenya

    Chris Ludlow/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 5

    On a weekend trip to buffalo from Toronto we made a pit stop at Niagara Falls on the Canadian side. I took this shot with my nexus 5 smartphone. I was randomly shooting the falls themselves from different viewpoints when I happened to get a pretty lucky and interesting shot of this lone seagull on patrol over the falls. I didn't even realize I had captured it in the shot until I went back through the photos a few days later

    Jassen T./National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 6

    Incredibly beautiful and extremely remote. Koehn Lake, Mojave Desert, California. Aerial Image.

    Howard Singleton/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 7

    Lucky timing! The oxpecker was originally sitting on hippo's head. I could see the hippo was going into a huge yawn (threat display?) and the oxpecker had to vacate it's perch. When I snapped the pic, the oxpecker appeared on the verge of being inhaled and was perfectly positioned between the massive gaping jaws of the hippo. The oxpecker also appears to be screeching in terror and back-pedaling to avoid being a snack!

    Abrar Mohsin/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 8

    The Yetis of Nepal - The Aghoris as they are called are marked by colorful body paint and clothes

    Madeline Crowley/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 9

    Taken from a zodiac raft on a painfully cold, rainy day

    Ian Bird/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 10

    This wave is situated right near the CBD of Sydney. Some describe it as the most dangerous wave in Australia, due to it breaking on barnacle covered rocks only a few feet deep and only ten metres from the cliff face. If you fall off you could find yourself in a life and death situation. This photo was taken 300 feet directly above the wave from a helicopter, just as the surfer is pulling into the lip of the barrel.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>