The London 2012 Olympics are to be the first in 16 years where swimmers will be forced to ditch their high-tech body suits and rely solely on technique.
Full-length high-tech swimsuits blazed onto the sporting scene just before the 2000 Sydney Australia Olympics, popularized by swimming legends like Michael Phelps and Ian Thorpe.
Made of water-repellent polyurethane fabrics that compressed the swimmer’s body to make it more streamlined, buoyant and less fatigue-able, the suits have been making waves in the world of swimming for years.
In 2008, Speedo unveiled its first high-tech swim suit, the LZR Racer, which covered the swimmer from ankle to neck in woven elastane-nylon and polyurethane, to form an ultra-light material. NASA's wind tunnel testing facilities and Ansys fluid flow analysis software supported the design.
Like other high tech body suits used for competition, Speedo’s model allowed for better oxygen flow to the muscles, and held the body in a more hydrodynamic position, while repelling water and increasing flexibility. The seams of the suit were ultrasonically welded to further reduce drag.
100% chlorine resistant and quick drying, the LZR also included patented core stabilizer and internal compression panels, developed in association with ANSYS, one of the world's leading engineering simulation software providers.
When professional swimmers broke an unmatched number of world records at the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008 and the Rome World Championships in 2009, however, some decided the sport had lost its purity and the suits were recently banned.
After all, is sport still ‘sport’ when athletes wearing modified suits can smash through sixty-six Olympic records in Beijing and obliterate another 43 world records in Rome? Shouldn’t athletes be able to sink or swim without the help of engineers?
Of course, that doesn’t mean technology has no place in this year’s Olympic pool. Swimmers still have amazingly advanced goggles to allow for 180-degree peripheral vision underwater, and caps so tight they seem almost welded onto the athlete’s scalp, but without good swim technique, hard work and practice, techy peripherals will no longer be able to help shave off precious seconds from a personal best.
And that’s a good thing, isn’t it?
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