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ISB swimmers back in pool with exciting race meet on horizon

By Nick Yates, ISB Communications

Splash! That was the sound of the roughly 1,200 students involved in the International School of Beijing’s (ISB) swim program getting back in the pool, with many of them thrilled to be racing in a new style of virtual meet set to broaden participation in competitive swimming.

Current rules on gatherings of people have inspired the world of swimming to evolve races into virtual meets, in which teams race in separate pools but have their results ranked. Often, teams hold their events simultaneously for live comparison of how swimmers are faring. At a professional level, the International Swimming League has incorporated virtual elements, and USA Swimming, the national governing body for competitive swimming in the USA, has drafted regulations for how to run virtual meets.

Up until 2019, hundreds of swimmers from ISB and peer schools gathered at the ISB pool for the annual Asian All Stars, an invitational designed to serve as an age group national-standard qualification event. This year, with the ISB pool recently back in action following a period of closure under Covid regulations, the All Stars has been renamed the Global Virtual All Stars (GVAA) and redesigned by ISB in partnership with International School Aquatics (ISA).


While impossible to have an in-person version, the GVAA does present the opportunity to broaden the meet to international schools not just from Asia, but from around the world. The format offers possibilities for competition that perhaps weren’t there before, due to geographic distances or cost of travel. For this newly designed event, qualification standards are less important as host schools do not have to accommodate large numbers of guest swimmers and face such pressure to cap the number of participants.

The GVAA has attracted close to 20 schools from the Middle East, Europe, and Asia with swim programs large and small to participate in a showcase that collects results into one place – the ISA website. While at least three schools have already clocked their times for the ranking, ISB will host its GVAA meet on April 24 and 25. Around 100 ISB swimmers will power their way up the overall ranking.

“We swimmers are extremely lucky to have this opportunity to race,” said Grade 12’s Evelyn C. “With so much uncertainty, the All Stars lets us see where we are at and also what we can work on. Furthermore, the way the event is set up with other schools around the world makes it fun because you are racing for yourself and the team. I am extremely excited for the All Stars and to see how our team does.”


Organizing the GVAA consolidates ISB’s position as a top center for swimming. Aquatics play a big part in community at the school and in providing a balanced education not solely based on academics. While many students are happy to learn new skills and have fun in the pool, ISB is very strong in competitive swimming – Dragon swimmers topped an older ISA league table of swim teams in international schools worldwide.

ISA was started as an independent organization in 2016, largely to showcase the growing swimming scene and talent in the international school arena. It combines all the results of the major international school conferences globally, giving students a reputable source of data to compare their performances against peers and potentially show to college recruiters.

Swimming is one sport in which the pandemic has spurred technological advances and practices to retain after a return to normality. As virtual meets have proven successful, there is a lot of accompanying technology in development. It may soon be possible for swimmers to view real-time data on their performance underwater as they race. A virtual landscape has also cemented the need for livestreaming of events while spectators are viewing online rather than in arenas. It’s aimed at not only preserving competitive swimming in this era but also making the experience more exciting for athletes and spectators. The ISB pool will be a worthy home for such tech.

ISB is an extraordinary school, made so by a tradition of educational excellence spanning 40 years. Establishing, nurturing, and growing such an exceptional learning community has been and remains intentional; we work hard to build strong relationships so our learning is at its best.

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