This year, many swimming world records made in 2009 will seem untouchable. Since the swimming world championships in Rome this past July, there has been a ban on what some are calling “super suits.”
With this high-tech swimsuit, swimmers can beat their own times by seconds from preliminaries to finals. While any publicity is good publicity for a non-contact sport, athletic integrity might be being sacrificed for an upper hand with the “technological doping” of swimsuits.
What makes these suits so fast? It’s all a matter of buoyancy and the use of polyurethane. Since Speedo’s LZR was engineered with the help of NASA, many brands of suit have gotten tremendously faster, leaving talent and training on the bottom of the list of priorities.
No one is taking steroids, and, unless they are wearing a brand that they aren’t endorsing, most swimmers need not hide any labels. So what’s the big deal? World records are being obliterated: 130 records in 17 months. It’s kind of like the “I, Robot” movie—man’s technology takes over its maker. Except, these super suits aren’t taking over the entire world, just the world of swimming.
One can argue this is just an evolution in swimsuit technology. I can only imagine the countless hours designers and engineers have spent creating this dynamic apparel. Now, their model to trump all models has come under scrutiny.
FINA, the International Swimming Federation, chooses which suits can go on the market, which ones get axed and which ones need alterations. A suit like this, one that rivals an athlete’s performance instead of enhancing it, should not have made the cut. Even if an athlete doesn’t feel it’s right to wear these performance enhancing suits, they have to keep up with the competition. Even the SCAD swim team wore them in meets and 27 all-time records were made while wearing them.
With Michael Phelps’ coach threatened protesting international meets, FINA made a temporary adjustment to regulations until the formal ruling goes into place starting in 2010. Publicly, Phelps seemed like a sore sport seeing as his was among the records being broken, but as the poster child for Speedo and the hero of the Beijing Olympics, when Phelps complains, people listen. But even Phelps wore Speedo’s LZR until he felt the shoulder-to-toe ensemble hindered his movement in the water.
While the international ban on high-tech suits began this month, the U.S. initiated their ban on Oct. 1. All suits must be made from natural or synthetic materials. Men’s suits cannot extend above the waist or below the knees. Women’s suits cannot cover the neck, extend past the shoulder or below the knee.
As a former swimmer, I can imagine the frustration of knowing you swam a lifetime best with the help of a swimsuit. Because, when it comes down to it, swimming is a sport not reliant on equipment or even teammates. It’s your body, the water, the clock and the competition in the lanes around you. But a record is a record—super suit or not.
In the world championships (wearing a non high-tech suit), Phelps still beat his 2008 Beijing time in 200 meter butterfly by half a second holding the world record of 1:51:51, proving there is hope. A man can beat the suit. Still, there is dispute as to whether records broken while wearing the suits will have an asterisk. For the swimmers who have gotten their one and only record on the board, their time could be dismissed as a technological advantage.
There will still be fast times. Records can still be broken. But the days of 100-percent polyurethane suits days are over. Swimmers will have to go back to shaving, lucky goggles and buying their suit a size too small.
Contact Katelan Cunningham