Olympic records set to tumble at London 2012 as Speedo unveil Fastskin3 swimwear
THE London Olympics could see an abundance of fresh swimming records set after Speedo unveiled a "radical" approach to swimwear that they claim is faster than the high-tech suits outlawed for technological doping in 2009.
Speedo say that by wearing the Fastskin3 system - of a cap, goggle and suit engineered to work in unison - swimmers such as 16-time Olympic medallist Michael Phelps will be able to go faster than they did wearing the firm’s LZR Racer suits at the 2008 Beijing Games, where competitors in the outfits set 23 new world records.
Fina guidelines that came into force in January 2010 outlawed full-body polyurethane suits meaning designers like Speedo had to work on new ways of gaining those crucial advantages for swimmers.
Their bold claim for the new design is that by wearing the ‘system’ as a whole, swimmers will benefit from significant gains in areas that traditionally slow them down, such as an 11 per cent improvement in oxygen economy, which enables them to swim stronger for longer.
Dr Tom Waller, the head of Speedo’s Aqualab development laboratory, said that when taken alone the Fastskin3’s jammers [men’s shorts] and suits were not quicker than their high-tech equivalents, which cover far more skin, but that once complimented by the cap and goggles they work in synergy to make swimmers go faster.
“We hope this will result in new records being broken,” he said. “We believe we’ve created the opportunity for athletes to really reach their maximum potential.
“Every athlete is different and it’s impossible to predict but we believe we’ve taken a step on in terms of being able to shape their body, and give them that confidence and stability in the water.
“The system is a radically different perspective and we believe we’re the only manufacturer to have ever designed something to work in unison. Taken together this is the fastest stuff we’ve ever created.
“We anticipate Phelps will wear the full system and we’re really excited about what he’s going to be able to achieve wearing it.”
Phelps and British swimmers such as Rebecca Adlington and Liam Tancock have been working with Speedo for the last three years to test and refine the system, using CGI technology and sport scientists in an attempt to eke out as many ‘half-a-per-cent’ advantages as possible.
The skintight suit, made of advanced textiles, is designed to sculpt around the swimmer’s body to create the optimum effiency and hydrodynamic swimming shape in the water and Speedo claim that this will reduce skin friction drag by 2.7 per cent.
The cap was designed using the same 3D scanning technology used by Hollywood film producers to generate CGI and Speedo say that the data has resulted in the production of a cap that exactly fits the contours of the head and face. When combined with the goggles the full body drag force is cut by 5.7 per cent.
The flat goggles represent the most visually striking step change when compared to current products on the market. Their streamline appearance and hydroscopic lens reduce the force that hits the goggles by 63.4 per cent, which minimises the risk of goggle movement during a swim.
“It makes me feel completely at one with the water,” said Phelps. “I feel confident, I feel comfortable and I feel good knowing I am wearing the fastest elements.”
Speedo has received full Fina approval for the system, which can legitimately be used in swimming meets from Jan 1, but Waller has had to work within much stricter confines than he would have had he embarked on this project a decade ago. Then designers were able to produce suits that were almost completely covered in polyutherane, which trapped pockets of air and aided buoyancy.
In Beijing in 2008 a Japanese coach famously professed that if a swimmer did not wear Speedo’s LZR Racer they would “not be able to compete”, forcing Japanese swimmers to hurriedly find a way around their exclusive contracts with competing brands.
In 2012, the vast majority of swimmers will have flexible contracts which will allow them to wear that Fastskin3 even if they are sponsored by a rival.
Ben Titley, who coached the GB women’s team to four medals in Beijing, said he found it unlikely that the Fastskin3 would match the “quantum step forward” that the LZR Racer represented but that the athletes wearing the new system would be at an advantage over opponents who aren’t.
“From a performance point of view athletes wearing the system at London 2012 are going to be in the best placed position to take advantage of the technical advances made in the last year,” said Titley.
“If someone doesn’t want to wear the system it’s their choice. All Speedo have done is designed something that I believe is the best on the market.
“Beijing was a quantum step forward. The LZR Racer was probably the most iconic image of the Games and a lot of hype was made of it. But with the current regulations there are limits to what can be done.”
Speedo’s suggestion that swimmers wearing the Fastskin3 system could go even faster than those in the LZR Racer is remarkable when the impact of the suit at the last Olympics is considered.
The LZR Racer was responsible for winning 94 per cent of all races in Beijing and a massive 89 per cent of all medals, while the winner of every men’s event wore the suit.
But more was to come at the 2009 World Aquatics Championships, dubbed the “Plastic Games”, where an incredible 43 world records were set as other manufacturers caught up with Speedo and put their equivalents to the LZR Racer on the market.
German Paul Biedermann wore the Arena X-Glide swimsuit which enabled him to break Ian Thorpe’s 400m freestyle world record and get the better of Michael Phelps in the 200m freestyle despite his modest placing in the world rankings.
Since the suits were eventually banned only two new world records have been set, by Sun Yang (1,500m freestyle) and Ryan Lochte (200m individual medley), at this summer's World Aquatics Championships in Shanghai.
Lochte became the first swimmer to break a global record in 20 months with his time in China, proving that although high-tech suits have been banned there are still ways of gaining those crucial advantages in swimming.
In the 200m individual medley final in Shanghai Lochte used the dolphin kick (or fifth stroke) technique to overtake Phelps on the 100m mark. After the turn Lochte rattled off nine of the underwater kicks, which emulate the way a dolphin cuts through the water with its flipper, to blaze past Phelps, who popped up early after only five dolphin kicks of his own lost him crucial ground.
Lochte clearly showed that by relentlessly working on technique and conditioning he was able to beat a time set during the high-tech suit era.
Another advantage for the swimmers competing at London 2012 could be the depth of the pool. As with Beijing the pool at the Aquatics Centre will be three metres deep - a metre more than most ordinary competitive pools. The extra depth helps to reduce the turbulence caused by the swimmer’s movement, which causes less resistance.
Three world records were broken by swimmers wearing the LZR Racer suit within a week of its launch in 2008 so the Australian and British Olympic trials in March should provide an early indication as to whether the Fastskin3 truly is a step change.