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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Swimsuit controversy

Swimming's credibility crisis: How FINA's blind eye is affecting the purity of the sport

The Beijing Olympic Games have come and gone. And with them, aided by technology including a uniformly deeper pool, improved wash-off areas, and high-tech swimsuits, so have 70 world swimming records this year.

In fact, swimming now suffers from such a dramatic credibility crisis that a race in which a world record is NOT broken is a disappointment. I dare suggest that you will be able to recall such a race in Beijing (though you may have to try hard, because there were not many). If an Olympic Gold was one without a world record being broken, it was met with rather disappointed silence.

Olympic fever - how bad was it?

The table below demonstrates just how easily records were broken in Beijing.

Out of a total of 32 events (16 men's and 16 women's), an incredible 21 events had world records broken a total of 25 times, and 66 Olympic records were set. Only ONE SINGLE Olympic record managed to survive for men and women. It was a complete clearing out of the Olympic (and World) record books.

That is, in my opinion, a problem for the sport of swimming - 70 world records in one year, and 66 Olympic records in one Games is not a symptom of a credible sport. I'm sure that some will disagree, but bear in mind that these 70 records are only the times of the WINNERS. There were races in Beijing where the first 5 finishers were swimming faster than the old world record! The South Africa 4 x 100m relay team, for example, swam almost a second faster than they swam only four years earlier to win gold in Athens, and they finished seventh!

Swimming records - an endangered species

Admittedly, there are other factors involved, and people will argue that this is a positive sign of progress. But consider the following:

The 100m freestyle record first went under 48-seconds in 2000. And then for eight years, 48-seconds was the magical "barrier" which only one man could break (Peter van den Hoogenband). Since the start of 2008, ELEVEN men have swum faster than 48-seconds. The result is that legends of the sport, whose position in all-time lists was secure, are suddenly line items in the swimming record books, forgotten and displaced almost overnight thanks not to improved swimmers, but improved technology.

That this should happen is not the problem - Paavo Nurmi and Jim Peters, two great long-distance runners from the past, can hardly expect to remain in the record books given the advances in technology over the last 50 years in their sport. The problem is the pace with which it has happened. Within one year, records have been forgotten, and the swimming world record is now an endangered species. And that is not good for the sport.

The lifespan of a swimming record

To look at this a little more objectively, I looked at the AVERAGE AGE (in days) of world records in the swimming events. The tables below show the age of men's and women's world records on the day that the Olympic Swimming events began. The arrows on the left hand side show which events had their records broken in Beijing (these records are then "aged" zero days old for this analysis), while the red arrows on the right show the records that had stood for longer than 2 years going into the Beijing Olympics.



For the men's analysis, the average age of the swimming world records BEFORE the Beijing Games was 680 days. As a result of the carnage in Beijing's Water Cube, it fell to 382 days (because 11 events had their records reset to zero days). There are now only THREE records older than 2 years - the 100m Butterfly (Ian Crocker), the 400m Freestyle (Ian Thorpe) and the 1500m Freestyle (Grant Hackett).

On the women's side, it's even worse. The average age BEFORE Beijing was 921 days, though that was massively skewed by one record - that of Janet Evans in the 800m freestyle. That record was broken in Beijing (by Rebecca Adlington), and the result is that a female swimming record now has an average age of only 247 days. In other words, women's swimming records have on average been set in the last year. Only one record is older than 2 years - the 8 year old record of Inge de Bruijn in the women's 100m butterfly.

You may still believe this is not a problem, and that is, I guess, personal choice. The essence of the sport is the competition - the race - and so the times are the fineprint, you may argue. Does it matter that a gold is won in a time that does not rewrite the record books? Perhaps not. But as someone who comes from a track and field background, where world records are special and meaningful, swimming really does face a crisis of credibility. It can certainly not boast about a meeting in which 66 records are set - that's not progress. Rather, it makes a mockery of the past, or the present (depending on your point of view).

Who is to blame? FINA, quite simply

So the obvious question is who do we put this down to? And the answer, as we have actually been saying this whole year (this is a topic we covered extensively in the build-up to Beijing), is FINA, swimming's governing body.

FINA showed very weak leadership when first presented with the issue of the Speedo Swimsuit, and they have followed this up with even worse leadership on subsequent suits. You can read one such example here - it talks about the Rocketsuit, which very openly promises to make swimmers more buoyant. The article is well written and direct, and I agree entirely with its conclusion: "the sensible thing for FINA to have done would have been to call for a moratorium on suit approval so that sensible debate can ensue..."

The founder of the company that makes the Rocketsuit is quoted as saying "The Rocket Skin has already been used in triathlons for non-wetsuit legal races and we have seen performance advantages of up to 6 seconds per 100 meters and 1500 meter races done in 87 degree water with no issues of overheating". I feel safe in suggesting that this is probably marketing hype speaking, and we won't see a 42 second 100m freestyle in this suit!

But the point is, the technology exists, and FINA failed miserably to impose its admittedly weak laws on suit design back in April when they met about the suit. Now they must face the consequences. The trouble is, they don't seem to care.

Fortunately for swimming, some people do. The big nations, notably Australia and the USA, are actually pushing to have these suits banned, and hopefully, they'll carry enough clout to do something. Otherwise, every single time a big meeting is held, we'll see a repeat of the Beijing result, and swimming's world records will move from one meeting to the next with little chance of survival. Again, that may be fine with some. I find it hard to swallow...

Ross

P.S. Looking at those lifespans of the swimming world records raises some interesting thoughts, and perhaps you've already begun wondering how swimming compares to track and field? Never fear, I've done that analysis too, and I'll post on that next! And it throws up a few very interesting implications! So join us then!

32 Comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi Ross and Jonathan !

Great post and good analysis. The best is that that you didn´t even bring up the D-word, which everybody who is not a scientist aware of all the technical issues would most certainly use as a main argument for the improvement of the records.
A suggestion for a future topic: I speedsakting, there are many calculations that determine the influence on race time of various new technical developments, such as klap-skates, skinsuits, ice quality etc. Wouldn´t that be an idea to look at this in swimming ?

Cheers

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi Anonymous

Thanks! For a moment there, I was racking my brains for the "d-word"...drag? Then the penny dropped! :-)

INteresting you should bring that up - the next post, where I compare the athletics records to the swimming ones, has some implications for whether doping is involved, as I alluded to at the very end of this post.

As for speed-skating, indeed, it would be interesting. I remember when the klap-skates were invented, and they did cause some controversy. I was too young to appreciate the full effect, or whether it was as impactful as this current swimming situation, but it's worth looking at. I don't know too much about the sport of speed-skating (not much in the way of ice and snow in South Africa), but there are people who I think would be happy to help - perhaps you are one of them??!!!

THanks!
Ross

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the analysis, very interesting. I agree that the wholesale changing of records did not look good at Beijing.

I do disagree on one point though - unless the technology advances keep coming continually the same thing will not happen at each future event. This is a step change (or was at Beijing) but once everyone uses the same suits, the pools are the same etc. then the records will stabilise and once again the records will go to the best swimmers. Also the time between records being broken will again increase.

Do you agree or do you see the technology continuing to improve?

Cheers
Tom

Scott said...

You used the men's 4x100 relay where five teams broke the world record in the finals, but you'd have been equally correct if you had said six teams broke the world record going into the Beijing Olympics, as Canada also was below that mark (the record having been lowered in the preliminaries by USA). South Africa was only .20 seconds off the old WR and Great Britain just .21 seconds behind them. The old record was absolutely crushed.

Anonymous said...

Great artice. Odd that no swimmer tested positive for drugs AT the 2008 Olympics. Prior to the games a few were caught, famously, Jessica Hardy. Sure, I believe they were all clean.
On a more positive note, since the tech suits focus, more or less, on reducing drag is there any chance of an article or series on drag reduction in swimming? Even elite swimmers are less than 10% efficient compared to a dolphins' rating calculated at about 80%. Thanks.

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi everyone

Thanks for the comments. To respond:

Tom

I think the suits are only just starting to improve. That was one reason for the post - if you read that article that I linked to discussing the "RocketSuit", you'll see that the innovation is only beginning. So I think there is opportunity to reduce times quite a bit more given the lack of control that FINA is exerting over suit design. I realise that eventually the progress will stop, but reading between the lines, we aren't there yet. The gate is open, and the horse has already bolted, but as that article mentioned (it's well worth a read - the first one I linked to), FINA needed to put the brakes on as soon as possible. They failed, and it's creating an artificial situation, which I think will continue. Not forever, but for a while yet...

Scott

You're right, that was the one event that stuck out most. The women's 4 x 100m was similar, if memory serves me, which I guess is not surprising given the nature of the event - fast and long.

Anonymous

The drug issue is interesting. Apart from Hardy, there's almost no suspicion. I suspect (call me naive) that drugs are relatively minor in swimming. And that's because of the efficiency thing. I think that doping doesn't work for swimmers because they're so inefficient and the gains as a result of doping are lost as inefficiency. If you're only 7 or 8% efficient (as you correctly point out),then doping to increase your strength, power or recovery ability will have a much smaller effect than if you are even 20% efficient. Rather, the biggest gains come from improving effciency, and that, to me, might make swimming a relatively clean sport. At the Olympics, it's subject to the same procedures as any other sport, yet throws up no positives (not that there were many for any sport in Beijing).

As for a series on drag reduction, that was the intention. I actually asked a colleague of mine who did a PhD in swimming hydrodynamics whether he'd like to contribute. I'm certainly not an expert in swimming mechanics, I enjoy the sport and understand it at a basic level, and then apply a different way of thinking to it. But for pure hydrodynamics, I'd like to get some "expert" insight. So I'll certainly try and then hopefully do a post or two on it.

But the next post I do will tackle the doping issue, using the world records as a tool.

Cheers
Ross

kesha said...

In omaha, swimming records are being re written as swimmers compete for spots on the U.S. Olympic swim team. The men's and women’s records may be attributed to having better conditioned athletes and new training methods.
----------

kesha

link building

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

HI Kesha

It can't be simply dismissed as "better athletes and training". Because by implication, you're saying that greats of swimming, Alexander Popov, Pieter van den Hoogenband, Ian Thorpe, Janet Evans, were "inferior" only a few years ago.

Your argument works when you look back over many years. For example, I can compare the current marathon world record holder, Haile Gebrselassie, to Jim Peters, who held it in the 1950s, and then it's fine to say "better athletes and better training". But the fact of the matter is that great swimmers who were world record holders at the start of 2008 (like Alex Popov) are now not even in the top 10 in their events! How do you go from best EVER to outside the top 10 in a few months?

I'm sorry, but that's not training methods and atheltes. Remember, swimming is not an "immature sport" - it's been around for many, many years, and we know that things happen gradually when it comes to training. 2008 has seen 70 records. 70 records! That's an explosion, not a progression, which is what you're referring to.

So it simply doesn't ring true.

Ross

Anonymous said...

Hi Ross !

The speedskating issue has been investigated in depth by the group of van Ingen-Schenau and Jos de Koning in the netherlands. I have wittnessed some of the talks, it was quite interesting. It has to be noted that in these models for speed skating, despite all the allowance for ice, suits, klap skates etc., there remained a clear "jump" in the performances in the 1990´ (EPO came on the market in 1989..).

@ Ross
I strongly believe that doping has a BIG impact in swimming! The history of doping in swimming supports my idea: Look at all the former east german and chinese records. The girls were mostly on steroids!

Technical advances:
The International Cycling Union has more or less stopped any technical advance in the bike sector by strict regulations. And we wittness no more big improvements in world records since that time. The individual 4000m pursuit record is from 1996(!) (4:11) and the closest times behind that record are relatively stable (4:16-4:18) since many years.
This applies to most other track cycling disciplines, as well.
So maybe FINA should consider a similar strategy?

Cheers,

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi anonymous

I've seen a lot of the Jos de Koning and Ingen-Scheau work on speed-skating - I used some of the performance data and models in my PhD. My insight is limited, though, because I've never skated, (let alone fast!) so I'd still like to "outsource" that to a real expert (lest I make the mistake of being presumptious and writing third-hand about something I know little about)

As for the drugs, I'm positive that doping has been prevalent in swimming. But I don't think it's a factor in the current spate of world records, which is what I was trying to put across. I didn't mean to suggest doping has never been a problem - sorry if it came out that way. I'm sure the eastern bloc swimmers were doped to within an inch of their lives in the 1980s. But without giving away too much of my next post, isn't it interesting that NONE of those very clearly doped records from the 1980's have survived, and have been replaced by these latest records? In contrast, all the women's athletics records date back to the 1980s! That's telling, in terms of the relative effect of doping on swimming compared to efficiency on swimming performance. That is the point I'll try to make in the next post, when I can.

So where I disagree is that doping has a BIG impact - I think it's a tiny impact compared to efficiency. Or, let me clarify, the effect of doping on swimming is far less important than the effect of doping on athletics, and is "easily" overcome by swimsuits and other technical aids. More on that later...

The cycling comparison is also interesting, thank you for pointint that out. It came up earlier this year in the Pistorius debate, and it's equally relevant here. FINA has a problem of their own making, but I agree with you that they could at least stop it from getting even worse. Time will tell!

THanks
Ross

Will said...

Very cool post, and a great blog. I just linked to your site and look forward to reading more of your material. I also just posted a write up on my own blog on the negative effects of ibuprofen and offered a natural alternative. I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Will

Gary Bonney said...

Contra claims muddy waters around high-tech swimsuits
JACQUELIN MAGNAY
21/11/2008
Source: http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2008/11/20/1226770644114.html?feed=fairfaxdigitalxml

AN INFLUENTIAL US swimming coach has revealed global swimsuit manufacturers injected millions of dollars of sponsorship into the world swimming authority FINA at the same time as they successfully sought approval of the new generation technical suits.

This comes as FINA has buckled under international pressure and agreed to hold a "think tank" on the future of technical swimsuits in February, as statistics show the number of world records broken this year was five times greater than in the Athens Olympic year.

In a clear sign that the swimming world remains divided over the technical suits, American Swimming Coaches Association executive director John Leonard said in a confidential report to his board last week that FINA chief executive Cornel Marculescu had acted outside his authority in rubber-stamping the suit approvals.

Leonard has urged a global backlash from all coaches and swimming federations against the suits. "Cornel is concerned solely and completely about money," Leonard wrote. "Each company that has had a suit approved has also, basically simultaneously, taken on the sponsorship of a part of the FINA program.

"The total expenditure of all the companies in doing this can be conservatively estimated at $US4-$US5 million dollars. His [Marculescu's] opinion is that what is 'good for FINA is good for the sport'. He sees those two items as synonymous. We are captive to the money-dominated decision process of one man. And one man only. Incredible, but true."

FINA's leading sponsor is Speedo, the first manufacturers to use the compression core, which strengthens the midriff of the swimmers with less fatigue and launched in February. Already the pre-Beijing suit, the LZR, is being superseded by a newer, more high-tech model, the Rocket. Other manufacturers have since followed, releasing new suits, after earlier believing the technology was against FINA's rules of buoyancy.

Leonard claimed in his letter that the approval process for the latest suit, the Rocket, was that FINA accepted a cheque.

Scientific research has shown the expensive suits, which all feature new fabric incorporating plastics and compression technology, have fast-tracked world record times to levels not expected under normal circumstances for more than 16 years. There have been 89 world records set since February, according to Swimnews.com. In recent Olympic years, the number of world records was 17 (2004), 33 (2000), five (1996) and 16 (1992).

US swimming coaches have banned the technical suits for youngsters under 12, and Australian coaches may follow. Australian head swim coach Alan Thompson said he was canvassing opinions and was preparing a response by Christmas.

The suit debate is being played out amid a coming election for the FINA presidency. Both the president Mustapha Larfaoui and treasurer Julio Maglione are candidates, and both have privately expressed opposition to the suits. But Leonard said both men would not rein in Marculescu.

Australian coach Forbes Carlile, an outspoken critic of the suits, said: "Obviously, honesty and purity in swimming is not going to happen in competitive swimming in the foreseeable future if we wait … for action prompted by self-motivation alone by the FINA powers that be."

Anonymous said...

You're right to point out that it is more likely the technology than the individuals. And swimming isn't the only sport where technology has made athletes better able to better world records (take track cycling for example) and indeed in one case track and field javelin technology has changed so the world record will likely never be broken (for fear of killing the athletes on the running track!). I look forward to the assessment on track and field, I would much rather have the swimming scenario than the drug infested track and field scenario.

(Another) Tom

Clinton said...

Hi Ross,
As ever, a great analysis, real food for thought. Imagine being Alexander Popov; reduced to a mere footnote in history because of this nonsense. Madness.
Keep up the good work.
Regards,
Clinton

Race Swimwear said...

truly technology has changed the face of sports like swimming.

Master Swimmer (nadador) said...

There's lot's of controversy going on about this, and sensible arguments on 'both sides of the pool'. So we should not take a definite YES/NO approach, what we should do is focus on the issues and arguments one by one, and address them.

Disclaimer:
I'm a swim shop owner, and also a swimmer

Anonymous said...

Dear Ross & Jonathan,

An argument has been often raised (by Speedo-sponsored coaches, for instance) that professional & recreational athletes use "high-tech" equipment in other sports (such as in tennis), so why not swimming?

One way I'd answer that is that... If I was invited onto a tennis court, and given a choice of rackets, I'd probably pick the fastest one ~ but if I had no choice, only a "slow" wooden racket, I'd gladly play anyway.

If I was invited to a swimming pool, and given a choice of swim suits, I'd pick the bare minimum ~ but if had no no choice, only a Speedo LZR, I'd refuse to swim, and just leave.

I'd maybe even plot (along with others) to drain the pool, for hearing such a stupid idea (that I'd have to change into some sort of full-body condom).

By the way, has anyone compiled a ranking of best all-time swim race times of those just wearing regular suits (such as Janet Evans, Alexander Popov, etc.)? If FINA doesn't wish to, someone else should.

Thanks... Ted M. (SF, USA)

Anonymous said...

I have read no comments about the athletes wearing 2 and 3 suits. When will this be addressed? As difficult as it is for me to swallow the idea of buoyant suits, now athletes are wearing multiple suits. This is cheating. No two ways about it. Cheating.

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

It'll be covered today - at the time we wrote this article, that issue hadn't come up yet (this is three weeks old). It has come up since, and so certainly, I'll post on it when next I cover swimsuits.

That happens to be today.

But you're right, it's cheating. The question one might ask is whether the choice to wear three suits is made for any reason that is different to the decision to wear the Speedo LZR rather than another suit? If it's not (which I feel it isn't), then are both not cheating? I guess that's a point to argue - at what point does an athlete choose to cheat as opposed to gain the maximum possible advantage within the laws?

Therein lies the problem...

THanks!
Ross

Paul Hoffman said...

Hi Ross et al,
Fantastic analysis! Must have been a labor of love. Would be interesting if you did a similar analysis for the World Championships and include records set by all even in the qualifying heats.
You were so right to place the blame on FINA.
You were so prescient; the rest of the swimming community is only now, after the 2009 World Swimming Championships is beginning to be upset about the ridiculous harvest of World Records. Even the sainted Janet Evans has woken up and protested. Where has she been all this time? Where were they all when the “torpedo”, Ian Thorpe, first showed up in full body suit?
I do wish though that you had made a suggestion of how this sport can regain its nobility sans hi-tech swimsuits. May I direct you to a proposal I made:
http://elkepzelheto.blogspot.com/2009/07/immodest-proposal.html
Regards,
Paul Hoffman

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi Paul

Thanks for that. Yes, we certainly have tracked all the records and developments in swimming.

You can find the first article here: http://www.sportsscientists.com/2009/07/swimming-world-records-fall-like.html

and then simply click 'newer post' under each one to read the next one.

Alternatively, go here:
http://www.sportsscientists.com/2009_07_01_archive.html

You'll see a list the posts for July, and you'll find about 5 covering the Rome World Champs.

Cheers
Ross

Anonymous said...

You are not an expert on swimming and should therefore stay out of it. It is very ignorant of you to speak on this subject. Where are your swimming crudentials? If you happened to be a swimmer then you would know that about every 5-10 years the technique of strokes changes and therefore someone who perfects this change takes the record. I am not saying that the suits have nothing to do with the speed of the swimmer, but we are not talking about much time. At the most a jaked or arena takes off 10 hundredths of a second. I personally have seen a much bigger psychological gain in wearing these suits. Next time you criticize swimming please be informed or you will come off incredibly ignorant.

Anonymous said...

Not finished. I did the previous post. If you are to restrict the technological advances of swimming, why not constrict the technological advances of every other sport. Why not run and swim naked so therefore everyone has an even chance. Also i dont see anyone criticizing technological advances that make the sport safer while at the same time giving someone an advantage.

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi Anonymous

Gosh, well, I'm sorry you feel that way. What are your credentials?

I guess all those world champion and Olympic medal-winning swimmers who discussed the suit negatively and focused on how it improved their performance should stay out of the debate as well?

But you show up and throw out meaningless criticism, because our view doesn't agree with yours. To me, the credentials you need for entering a debate are the ability to summarize the story, to listen to others, and assimilate information, which is what this post, and the dozen before it have tried to do.

I'm sorry it doesn't fit with your view and expert opinion. I'll ask Bob Bowman about it next time, and maybe some Olympic gold medallists I know, get their take on what you have to add.

Thanks for the visit
Ross

Anonymous said...

Ppl

Is it really that such an issue that such emphasis is placed on the suits itself? You all seem to forget that while these 'hi-tech' suits will certainly improve performance, there is NOTHING stopping the every competitor from using it too. If this is really such an issue, then shall we extend the ban to racing bikes that seem to get lighter and lighter by the year, or that in archery in which bows are getting easier and easier to pull with each new model in the market?

While you can complain and bemoan the 'obvious' disadvantage and unfairness in the competition, remember that the swimsuit isn't swimming by itself; ther's a live person in it. So why not save that time to spend it on training instead, or 'jump onto the bandagon' and move in a direction in which the lap time gets shorter instead of backwards.

And with this we come to the idea of innovation. Equipments are SUPPOSED to get better and better. Is it such a problem that records keep getting smashed year after year? Isn't that a good sign in that the sport is heading in the right direction, in that the athletes are actually doing something right?

With this I rest my case. FYI in almost every competition I see archers using really these so called "high end' bows, but normally we tend to attribute their victory to their skill and not their equipment, an attitide you ppl might want to try adopting for a change.

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi Anonymous

If only it were that simple - I'd encourage you to read the other posts I've done about this topic. It's pretty obvious that the equal access to equipment that your argument relies on is not happening, and also that young children are now facing a barrier to entry that did not exist before.

I think it's entirely understandable for:

a) Coaches and elite swimmers to resist this, because sponsorship agreements force them to wear specific suits, and so this notion that "they all have it" is false, at least in the short term, and

b) Coaches and parents resist the suits, because they'll increase cost of participation enormously. You're talking thousands of dollars a season, and that is new to swimming. It's always been relatively inaccessible anyway (because of access to pools - very socio-economically biased), but the suits threaten to make it more so.

So then the ban might have to be on junior suits, up to the pro level.

And then I have to problem with it at all. If everyone was using them, great. If kids could swim and rise successfully without them, great. But if you watched the World Champs earlier this year, you'll have seen that this was clearly not the case. And the records are being set by guys who don't necessarily have the ability to break WR, but in the suit, they do. So the whole sport is unsettled.

It's pretty obvious why people are upset, and not as simple as you suggest.

Regards
Ross

Anonymous said...

Hi Ross

For starters i have never once said that there was equal access to equipment. What i did say is that there is NOTHING stopping them from getting access to it if they 'chose' to. Of course there will come into play factors such as financial considerations and so on. But at this point, if we're at a level in which ever split second counts at a National level, i hardly doubt that it is the main issue. U must ralize, that there are other sports around the world are changing to make it EASIER for the athlete to achieve his full potential.

The very notion of swimsuits being banned because it " aids his speed, buoyancy or endurance during a competition" is a concept i find highly laudable. While we're at it lets ban running shoes that are getting lighter by the season because it aids in endurance, or ban cycling helmets that are aerodynamically designed because it aids speed. Heys lets also ban bows that can shoot arrows at a higher speed with a lower pull weight at the same time.

Scores and timing will always keep moving up.Saying that current records are being held by ppl who "don't necessarily have the ability to" is a concept i find highly insulting. To break those records they toiled countless hours of sweat and blood to get there, and all the suits did was AID them in reaching their maximum potential. Correct me if I'm wrong, but when did we ever start to critique atheletes using every emans at their disposal to do their best.(not counting doping as that does not reflect their true potential). Hence i fail to see how these 'kids' are unable to 'swim and rise' without their swimsuits. So if i take it off does it mean they will immediately revert to being ametuers?

So to sum it off, the main issue from what i have gathered so far is NOT that these suits are 'cheating' as per say but rather that not every one can get their hands on it due to various factors. But as an athlete, if you really love the sport, I am sure that saving up over time till you can afford the latest swimsuit isn't something too unreasonable. In archery every year we see new bow designs that promises less fatigue for the same arrow speed. Of course while we poor unsponsored archers curse and swear at the thought of having to spend precious coins again if we wish to attain the 'latest edge' inthe sport, we also cheer and look forward to what the next year will being. Its all part of the fun of the sport. All sport equipment can only aid a athlete to reach his maximum potential. NO eqipment in existance can possibly allow an athlete to achieve a result that is over his own ability. Hence for coaches and swimmers to 'resist it' is nothing short of pure arrogance and selfishness;why? Because it clearly implies " Because i can't have it, then neither will you'. Why resist changes eve if it means thousands and thousands of dollars a season? I'm sorry if such a concept is foreign to swimming, but change isn't always bad.

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi again

Your points are all valid, yes, and they've been made many times in the collection of maybe a dozen posts on this topic. So I'd really encourage you to read all those posts - some coaches, some parents, some swimmers have all commented on others posts, and they've had varying opinions. Some have expressed exactly what you're saying now.

To me, though, there is a bigger sponsorship issue here that you're not necessarily seeing. How many sponsors can a swimmer have? Maybe for some swimmers, many, but most will get one sponsorship, and that's a swimsuit. The sponsors are therefore much more powerful than they are for other sports.

So what you're seeing is a battle of industry, and the access to the suits is not as simple as maybe it is for these others sports.

As for banning shoes because they're lighter, that's a flawed comparison, because they don't aid performance. If the shoes had springs, then the same case could be made.

What I find most interesting about the debate is that I have not heard more than a handful of swimmers actually support the swimsuits. But at least 50 have spoken out against it. And that's interesting. Is it small-mindedness? Is it arrogance or selfishness? I can't see it being that simple. But what it does show is that swimming doesn't share the culture of embracing technology like maybe archery does.

Just while I'm on it, cycling has clamped technological progress, just for the record. They 'rewound" the specifications on the bikes a few years ago, and set limits on dimensions and weight, and so they've actually pre-empted what swimming didn't.

Anyway, the point is that swimming itself doesn't seem to want this type of technology, and there are many reasons for it - they've been discussed many times in other posts, as mentioned. Is it right to force it on them? I don't think it is, and I'm a purist when it comes to records. And when 150 records fall in 18 months, that's not right.

And finally, don't be so sensitive about "insulting" swimmers. The fact is, some of the guys who are now world record holders were swimming 4 to 8 seconds slower without the suit. They were second-tier swimmers, but they managed to obtain better suits, and now they're world champions. That's like a 2:12 marathon runner finding a pair of jet-shoes and suddenly winning the New York Marathon. It's not insulting, it's elite sport, and while I fully recognize that all elite athletes work incredibly hard, there's a hierarchy, and the suits have changed it.

The sport is now like Formula 1 - the best driver rarely wins. The best car does. I'm all for technology, but when the technology creates bigger margins than the physiology, it's a problem. That's why F1 is flawed - the best car creates a margin over the second best car that the best driver cannot overturn.

Not for swimming, but different sports may see it differently.

Regards
Ross

Anonymous said...

Hi Anonymous

Gosh, well, I'm sorry you feel that way. What are your credentials?

I guess all those world champion and Olympic medal-winning swimmers who discussed the suit negatively and focused on how it improved their performance should stay out of the debate as well?

But you show up and throw out meaningless criticism, because our view doesn't agree with yours. To me, the credentials you need for entering a debate are the ability to summarize the story, to listen to others, and assimilate information, which is what this post, and the dozen before it have tried to do.

I'm sorry it doesn't fit with your view and expert opinion. I'll ask Bob Bowman about it next time, and maybe some Olympic gold medallists I know, get their take on what you have to add.

Thanks for the visit
Ross


Last time I checked Michael Phelps wants the suits, but i guess that his fourteen gold medals don't add up to anything

Anonymous said...

Yeh, I believe you should leave the suits up. FINA may have made the bad decision of letting the suit out... but now, how can you go back? jammers will not cut it when it comes to times from the jaked and arena... Surprisingly there are kids still going faster WITHOUT the suit. Steriods? possibly? But this still means people are progressing the sport without the suit... Tell golfers to go back to steel clubs, see what tiger would tell you.

Anonymous said...

This is about Anonymous' March 23, 2010 medium-incoherent post.
Or at least not well reasoned.
It is amazing how many times people, including the present Anonymous, use what they think as analogy from another sport as a clincher for an argument. It is by no means so. An argument should stand on its own merit. The major argument against hi-tech swim suits is subverted the original idea of swimming, which was to see who can swim fastest unaided by artifacts. Hi-tech swimsuits waqs such an artifact, designed to speed up the swimmer. Whether there will be more records or not, what tiger would say, has nothing to do with the basic wrongness of the concept. If faster records are needed, whay not making the pools shorter--they have alreay raised the starting blocks, allowed swimmers flipturns, backstrockers to turn over before turning, all in the interest of improving the times. 50 years ago none of these practices would have been allowed. So is shortening the pool so farfetched--just kidding to make a point.
Paul Hoffman

Anonymous said...

You're right to point out that it is more likely the technology than the individuals. And swimming isn't the only sport where technology has made athletes better able to better world records (take track cycling for example) and indeed in one case track and field javelin technology has changed so the world record will likely never be broken (for fear of killing the athletes on the running track!). I look forward to the assessment on track and field, I would much rather have the swimming scenario than the drug infested track and field scenario.

(Another) Tom