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Exterior of the Betty Kelly Kenning National Swim Complex
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The Bahamas is an archipelago of 700 islands and cays located about 250 miles east of Miami, Florida. Although the country has a land mass the size of Jamaica, the population is less than 300,000 people. According to census figures, 50% of the Bahamian population is under the age of 25. However, there are less than 400 swimmers registered with the BSF, although there are several hundreds more in learn-to-swim programmes. The majority of these swimmers are between the ages of 5 and 18 years old.

The number of registered clubs fluctuates annually. Some years, only 6 swim clubs renew their membership; other years, as many as 8 clubs have renewed their membership in the Federation. Currently, there are 5 clubs located in the capital of Nassau on the Island of New Providence (Barracuda Swim Club, Dolphin Swim Club, Flamingo Swim Club, Sea Bees Swim Club and Team Piranha Aquatic Club) and 2 clubs in Freeport on the Island of Grand Bahama (Freeport Aquatics Club; YMCA Wave Runners). Abaco Swim Club, located in the Marsh Harbour/Hope Town areas on the Island of Abaco, has been inactive since July of 1998. Swift Swimming, which was based in Nassau, disbanded in July of 2000.

The number and adequacy of swimming pool facilities hampers the growth of the sport at the national level. There are four 25-metre and two 25-yard outdoor competition pools in Nassau. All but one of these pools is owned by an educational institution, either a private secondary school or a college. There are two 25-metre outdoor competition pools in Freeport, one of which is owned by a private secondary school. However, as the result of a very generous donation of B$5,000,000.00 by Mr. and Mrs. John Kenning, in May of 2000 the Bahamas Government completed the construction of the Betty Kelly Kenning National Swim Complex. As a result, The Bahamas now boasts its first 10-lane, 50-metre outdoor swimming pool. There is also a 6-lane, 25-metre training pool.

Hopefully, the existence of this swimming complex will allow the BSF the opportunity to provide programmes introducing numerous persons to the joys of aquatics. This would dovetail with the Federation's short-term objective of increasing the number of registered swimmers to the 1,000 level. It might also serve as an impetus to increase the number of persons teaching and coaching swimming. With only 10 to14 registered coaches, Bahamian swimming is in need of more swimmers, more coaches, more pool facilities and new clubs. One means of accomplishing this would be the introduction of swimming programmes in local primary and secondary schools. Almost 75% of school-age children attend public primary and secondary schools and 50% of the population of The Bahamas lives on New Providence. Yet none of the Federation's swimmers come from public schools. Similarly, none of the public schools has an on-site swimming pool or easy access to the existing publicly-owned swimming pools.

The construction pattern of adequate swimming pools mirrors the slow growth of the sport. Prior to the completion of the Kenning National Swim Complex in May of 2000, it was in 1992 that the first 8-lane, 25-metre pool in the country was built at St. John's College in Nassau. The rest of the existing swimming pools were constructed 10 to 25 years ago. A swimming pool complex is scheduled for future construction in Freeport, with emphasis on the word "future". Abaco Swim Club has raised the funds to build a 25-metre outdoor pool on land donated by the Marsh Harbour Town Council and  construction is about 80% complete. Their swimmers will not have to train in the sea waters of the harbour much longer.

Aside from the above, no other swim clubs or competition pools exist. This means that the BSF has no presence in the majority of islands: Andros, Cat Island, Eleuthera, Exuma, Bimini, Long Island, Acklins, Crooked Island, Mayaguana, Inagua, San Salvador, Rum Cay, the Berry Islands, Harbour Island.

The prospects for the introduction of Diving, Synchronised Swimming, Water Polo, Masters Swimming and Open Water Swimming programmes in The Bahamas are even dimmer. There are no facilities whatsoever for Diving anywhere in The Bahamas. While a diving well could have (and should have) been included in the plans for the Kenning Swimming Complex, these were scrapped by the Ministry of Public Works at very early stage in the design phase based on cost considerations. In hindsight, this was a crucial mistake, both in terms of sport development and in light of cost overruns. The Complex was originally pegged at $2,000,000.00, then escalated to $3,500,000.00, then escalated again to $5,000,000.00 and eventually cost somewhere between $7,500,000.00 to $8,000,000.00 to construct - all without a Diving well, provision for conversion of the Main Pool for 25-metre Short Course meets or provision for conversion of the Main Pool to Water Polo.

The upshot of this is that the BSF is unable to nominate itself to host any competitions bigger than the CARIFTA Swimming Championships. Now that the CARIFTA Championships also include Synchronised Swimming and Water Polo, the question arises as to when (or whether) The Bahamas can play host to these Championships or the Caribbean Islands Swimming Championships ('CISC') based on the current facilities. Hosting the Central American and Caribbean Swimming Championships ('CCCAN') which covers Swimming, Diving, Synchronised Swimming and Water Polo does not even arise under present circumstances. While the Main Pool at the Kenning Complex is deep enough for Swimming, Synchro and Water Polo events, the logistics of holding all three of these events in one pool makes their scheduling a highly complicated first consideration. The present lack of Water Polo equipment (principally, lane lines, clocks, scoreboards and goals), Synchro equipment (principally, underwater speakers and scoreboards) and the necessary infrastructure also add to the complications

Masters Swimming and Open Water Swimming can easily be promoted, given that both FINA and CCCAN have Championships in both of these disciplines. The major difficulty for Masters Swimming has been that the BSF's clubs promote it as "Adult Learn-To-Swim" or "Adult Keep Fit", not as an adjunct to their competitive swimming programmes. Additionally, few former competitive swimmers remain in the sport after completing their high-school or college education. As for Open Water Swimming, when one considers how countries like Brazil, Argentina, Puerto Rico and even the Cayman Islands have promoted this particular discipline, it is unfortunate that The Bahamas has not promoted its warm, clear waters for Open Water events. One problem here undoubtedly relates to the requirement for escort boats, which have to be arranged and possibly even hired.


Not much is known or recorded about the early origins of competitive swimming and club swimming in The Bahamas. It seems that the concepts originally grew out of the local lifesaving community. Many years ago, a chapter of the Royal Lifesaving Society was established in The Bahamas, most likely by Britons living here. Some of these persons transferred their knowledge of lifesaving as it relates to aquatics into "formalised" paid swimming lessons. Eventually, this resulted in the formation of the first local swim club in April of 1969. Coincidental to the construction of a swimming pool at Xavier's College [a Roman Catholic primary school], the Dolphins Swimming Club was formed with Miss Betty Cole as its coach. Later that same year, another swim club was formed in Freeport, Grand Bahama, namely the Freeport Aquatics Club. In 1970, while I was a student at Queen's College [a Methodist school], the school had a fair to raise funds to construct a swimming pool. Initially, this consisted of an above-ground, vinyl-lined pool that was eventually replaced by a five-lane 25-metre concrete structure. Informal swimming lessons were conducted in the pool there by some of the teachers at the school from Britain. In 1972, the Barracuda Swim Club was formed, using the school's swimming pool. In 1975, the Sea Bees Swim Club was formed by an American couple, Bud and Sue Geiselmann, using the swimming pool at St. Andrew's School, a Presbyterian school. 

The forerunner to what is now known as the Bahamas Swimming Federation was the Bahamas Amateur Swimming Association. BASA was formed in 1952 as part of a coordinated effort by Bahamian sportspersons and sports organisations seeking their "sports independence" from Great Britain. In 1948, a group of Bahamian yachtsmen had qualified for and participated in the London Olympics under the British flag because The Bahamas was then a British colony. Based on the yachtsmen's success, a conscientious decision was made that future Bahamians would represent this country under its own name and flag. For this to happen, The Bahamas would have to form its own National Olympic Committee and seek affiliation to the International Olympic Committee. This required the formation of at least three Bahamian National Sports Federations, each affiliated to an International Sports Federation. As a consequence, Bahamian National Federations were formed in 1952 for the sports of Track and Field, Swimming, Shooting and Sailing, gained affiliation to their respective International Federations and thus, the Bahamas Olympic Association was born. Sometime between 1952 and 1991, the Bahamas Amateur Swimming Association changed its name to the Bahamas Federation of Amateur Aquatics. In 1991, the BFAA again changed its name, this time to its current name, the Bahamas Swimming Federation.

However, no swimmers represented The Bahamas at the Olympic Games until 1976 in Montreal, Canada, when the Knowles brothers, Bruce and Andy, represented this country for the first time. Since then, The Bahamas has sent at least one swimmer to every Olympic Games except the Moscow Olympic Games in 1980, as follows: Robert Butler (Moscow 1980 - did not attend because of the boycott); Sean Nottage and David Morley (Los Angeles 1984); Garvin Ferguson and Lori Roberts (1988 Seoul - Ferguson in swimming and Roberts in diving); Allan Murray and Timothy Eneas (1992 Barcelona); Allan Murray (1996 Atlanta); and, Allan Murray, Christopher Murray, Jeremy Knowles and Nicholas Rees (2000 Sydney). Garvin Ferguson, currently the Head Coach of the YMCA Wave Runners in Freeport, has the distinction of being the only Bahamian to have ever held an Olympic swimming record, albeit for 2 or 3 minutes. Swimming in the first heat of the 50m Freestyle Preliminaries at the Seoul Olympics, Ferguson finished first in his heat. As this was the first time that the event was offered at an Olympic Games, he held the Olympic record for the event until the conclusion of the next heat. Lori Roberts has the distinction of being the only female to represent The Bahamas in aquatics at an Olympic Games as well as being the only diver to represent this country to date. Allan Murray has two distinctions: in 1996 in Atlanta he became the first and only Bahamian swimmer to compete in a Final, finishing third in the "B" Final of the 50m Freestyle and, to date, he is the first and only Bahamian swimmer to compete in three [consecutive] Olympic Games. Jeremy Knowles has the distinction of being the first Bahamian swimmer to qualify in 5 Olympic events and to compete in 3 Olympic events, swimming in the 200m Butterfly, 200m and 400m Individual Medleys at the Sydney Olympics.

This page last updated: 02 May, 2004




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