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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Swimming world records - not a good day for Speedo

The battle of the suits continues in Rome: Swim suit analysis

Tuesday the 28th of July was not a good day for Speedo. Michael Phelps, the greatest swimmer of all time (in terms of medals), and Speedo's big name sponsored athlete, beaten into second in an event he has for a long time dominated. Beaten by a man who only a year ago was 5th in the Olympic Games in the same event. A man who, one year on, has improved his time from that Olympic final by a staggering four seconds, wearing Arena's X-glide swimsuit. A man who has himself admitted that the suit makes "him really fast; honestly, about two seconds in the race. I think the suits are destroying a little bit the sport. It’s just, put on a suit, and you’re really, really fast". (Just for those who are interested - Biedermann's 400m time from Beijing was 3:48. The other day, he swam 3:40 - perhaps "two seconds" is a little bit of an underestimate..)

And this is not criticism of Biedermann. He's emerged from the middle of the pack (he was young in Beijing), and is now a double record holder, double world champion and has taken two of the great records in the sport.

In case you missed it, he won the 200m freestyle final in a new world record of 1:42.00. That's a full 0.96 seconds faster than the old record, which belonged to Michael Phelps. The same Michael Phelps who he beat yesterday, by about 1.5 seconds, and who was wearing the suit from 2008 - Speedo's LZR Racer. So a bad day for Phelps, and a bad day for Speedo.

Queen continues to get air-time in Rome

The Biedermann world record brought to 11 the number of events whose world records have been broken - I've just about lost count of how many times the records have gone, because some events have seen the record improved twice, often in successive races. I think it's 15...or was it 16? Who knows, I guess I'll find out later when I watch this evening's action. All I know is that Queen has continued to get maximum air-time in Rome!

And, perhaps more worryingly, it seems that it is not only world records that are meaningless. Yesterday, we looked at the world records, and the fact that only one or two are older than one year. Call me a purist, but I like the idea that a world record is a challenging boundary! However, I can accept that it's not necessarily a bad thing for records to fall on average every few hundred days, and almost certainly at every major championship.

The problem for swimming, and this answers a question covered below, is that the way the situation has been managed has actually compromised the integrity of the competition. That is, we do not know if were are seeing seeing swimmers compete on a level playing field (or pool as it were). It's a tough thing to say, but World Champions from Rome will always have an asterisk next to their performances.

Did we see the best swimmer win the 200m freestyle race yesterday? Did the best swimmer win the women's 400m freestyle title on day 1? Has the best swimmer won anything this week? You can see the problem with the doubt created by the suits - great swimmers, deserving of titles, are either unfairly doubted, or flat out denied a title because their suit is two seconds slow. It's a lose-lose all around. As for the viewer, we'll never know because there is apparently such a large discrepancy between rival swimsuits that the outcome of the race may be significantly influenced by a sponsorship agreement that prevents an athlete from wearing a certain brand.

Michael Phelps may never have won the title - perhaps Biedermann was the better swimmer. Phelps did swim slower than he did in Beijing - by .22 seconds. I certainly do not wish to be a Phelps-apologist and say he "was robbed". Similarly, I would not say that Kirsty Coventry, Stephanie Rice, or Aaron Piersol are "victims" of the swimsuit debacle. However, their sudden (because 11 months is sudden) fall from the top step to sometimes not even making finals is symptomatic of a shakeup caused by something other than training and talent.

So Phelps did not improve between Beijing and Rome. Biedermann did (by 4 seconds). One would not ordinarily expect the level to improve by that amount in so short a time. Yet it has happened, and maybe Biedermann deserves his success. Fundamental to the debate is that we should not have to wonder - the best athlete should win. And that brings us to the debate stimulated by yesterday's post...

Why bother? Perhaps we should accept technology?

In response to yesterday's post, we had two really good questions, from Sigmund1 and tr3v (you can read these in the comments section to yesterday's post). Basically, they made the point that perhaps we shouldn't even care about banning the suits. Perhaps we should embrace technology and accept it as part of the sport, with the knowledge that in a few years, developments will plateau and we'll have equal competition.

I think there is some merit to that position. I will say, however, that if you trace the current situation back, then you start to appreciate why the technology poses more of a problem for swimming than for a sport like cycling, or even javelin (two examples often given for how governing bodies have "rolled back" the records).

The marketing/sponsorship problem

First of all, the current situation has its origins in early 2008, when records first started to fall. At that stage, it was quite clear something was afoot - the Speedo LZR, with its high-tech design and polyurethane panels was contributing to records that had stood for years. The problem then was that there was only one such suit - Speedo's. Arena, TYR and others cried foul because they'd been caught off guard. They thought that the suit should be illegal according to FINA's laws (which were non-existent). Speedo didn't, and took advantage of a loophole in law to design it.

Swimming coaches cried foul - their incentive was to promote swimming at all levels, and the creation of a suit that cost $800 threatened swimming equality, they said.

And of course, swimmers cried foul - you must remember that for a swimmer (unlike a cyclist), there is one significant sponsorship source - the swimsuit manufacturer. That is, a swimmer is often reliant on a swimsuit manufacturer to make a living. Cyclists have pro teams with contracts, and range of sponsors in what is an equipment heavy sport with plenty of branding options for sponsors (helmet, gloves, nutrition, hydration, accessories, and that is just within the sport). Swimmers often earn little outside this one deal. Suddenly, the prospect that Suit X (be it Arena, adidas, TYR, Nike) was inferior to Speedo was a crisis that could not be solved simply by wearing another suit, since it would cost valuable sponsor goodwill.

And so began the swimsuit wars...swimmers jumped ship, violating sponsor agreements (sometimes with permission) to try to win medals. Beijing came too quickly for rivals to match Speedo, but once it was done, they caught up, and then some. Arena, Jaked, TYR, all designed suits that took Speedo's LZR concept and moved it to the next level. The problem was that Speedo (the biggest sponsor in swimming, courtesy USA and Australia) was now left behind, and the end result is the situation we now have - many swimmers are "tied" into contracts that prevent them from wearing the suits that are performance enhancing. Or, alternatively, they cannot get access to them. Either way, the problem is not technology, it is the unequal distribution and implementation of technology.

The challenge of ensuring equal competition - not as simple as it seems

Two final points to make in this regard - because of its efficiency characteristics (swimming is really inefficient), small changes seem to have a big effect on performance. So technology is always going to do major things to swimming times - you see this with biomechanical analysis, the advent of underwater analysis and so forth. I have some data that shows how swimming records have always been more 'fragile' than running, but that is for another time (when I have more time!)

However, the implication of this is that the impact made by technology is potentially larger in swimming than it would be for say running shoes in athletics, even tennis racquets in tennis. This means that ensuring equality of competition through technology is much more difficult for swimming. The difference between Nike and Adidas running spikes is minuscule. Trek and Specialized may like to believe they make the best bikes, but the performance differences are tiny, if not non-existent (at that level, of course - my Trek is very inferior!). But for swimming, the differences in technology may be large enough that they outstrip the natural difference between swimmers. Then we have Formula 1, not swimming...

History - a purist view, but a tainted record

Secondly, swimming relies heavily on history and world records for its interest. It is a timed sport (different to cycling in this regard) and so generations are often compared by longevity or records, quality of performances. The current swimsuit situation negates that comparison entirely. I am (again) a purist, but I look at greats of swimming, the likes of Alexander Popov, who was the world record holder in the 100m freestyle only 18 months ago. He's now well outside the top 10 times ever swum, obliterated from the books, and swimmers with less talent are now well clear of him. There is of course precedent for this - javelin record books were wiped clean when the new javelin was introduced. However, in this analogy, at least everyone got the same javelin...! And it was easy to document where the change had come - a clear, distinct moment separated old from new. For swimming, access to technology is compromised and the line between "before" and "after" less clear.

So the issue is not new technology, but the control over that technology, and equal access. And, at some point, control over its limits. It's a debatable issue for the future.

For the present though, one might need to enjoy the World Championships but not take results too seriously, because if FINA eventually get around to banning these suits, the pecking order may be tipped on its head. And for the future, FINA should take very seriously the threats and reports, including the threat that Michael Phelps (the sport's biggest drawcard, like it or not) may not swim in international competitions until the high-tech suits are banned.

You may think that is a spoiled gesture, sour grapes (please let us know!), but what it seems to suggest is that the swimmers themselves are disgruntled and unhappy.

This was a much more marketing heavy post, more on the 'philosophical' side, and not the analysis of the world records, which I hope to return to by tomorrow. If time permits...



Simon said...

It seems that everyone is now upset about suits, but when Phelps won all his medals, no one was commenting on the fact that he had the better suit.

Meg & Dave said...

This situation reminds me a bit of paddle sports racing. Flatwater and even slalom whitewater racing are "displacement mode" events similar to swimming, so inherently inefficient compared to sports out of the water.

As newer, faster boats and paddles (wing blades etc.) came onto and continue to come into the market, clubs and national teams are forced to keep up in order to be competitive. Your every day racer can not be expected to buy the newest $5000+ race boat that is impractical for extensive training every year or two because their old one is outdated. I'm no expert, but I don't think paddling's governing bodies have done much beyond size and weight limits for hulls.

Should there be strict guidelines as to extent of skin coverage and material makeup for suits? Naked swimming anyone? Is there any merit to the concept that technology will plateau? And do we really want swimming to have a gear-tech component? I'd venture to say it ought to be left pure, old school speedos and one piece women's race suits made out of materials used in the 80s and 90s. But like you said yesterday, the only thing worse than allowing the new suits is allowing them then banning them. oy!

Anonymous said...

Naked swimming would open up the sport of swimming to a whole new audience ;) . Just like the Ancient Olympics, let the athletes compete nude.

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi Simon

We were 'upset' about it from the beginning - back in March last year we did the first post, and nothing changed. So I don't think it's entirely correct to say no one was commenting - a lot of people were very upset about it, and the coaches and journalists covering swimming have been condemning the suits since day 1. Nothing has changed, just because Phelps lost.

I must also point out that the situation has changed a little, because now it's a full on arms race in swimming, whereas in Beijing, it was Speedo who had a clearly superior suit. Now it's a free-for-all. But the same concept applies - the suits have been a problem all along, this is no different.

To Energetich

Interesting story from paddling - not a sport I know too much about, but it sounds similar. I don't know why swimming has received quite as much attention, considering that paddling got away with it relatively 'controversy-free'!

A lot of it is marketing, I've no doubt - Speedo made a real point of pushing their superior suit (it's come back to bite them), and so a lot of it is perception.

I don't believe the technology will plateau, no, though the improvements will become smaller and smaller. As for whether we want this high-tech component, I don't, but some people don't mind.

The other problem, of course, is that banning the suits and going to a rule that says you're only allowed old school speedos essentially puts an end to almost the entire swimsuit industry - why would Arena, TYR or Jaked even need to exist if all costumes were basic and equal? It is like saying all cars must be the same shape, colour and size. Pretty soon, Ferraris, BMWs, Mercedes and Lexus would vanish!

Very difficult. They were too slow to respond in the beginning, so have dug this hole themselves...


Meg & Dave said...

I guess it is a lot like going back to "non-aero" classic bikes. There could be swimming competition without the assistance of suits and unlimited competition with the suits. Probably leave triathlete suits unregulated with pool suits regulated kind of like road racing/tri bikes. They had to regulate track bikes in a similar way.

Its the interim we are stuck in now that is a little sticky.

In terms of standardization, people like NASCAR and the car companies seem alright... I mean... Maybe NASCAR did in chevrolet!

Jasper said...

Equal non-discriminatory access seems impossible given the structure of the industry and the potential for the same suit to offer athletes different (relative) advantages. Banning the suits would also provide some very interesting data for future study, e.g. a Biedermann vs. Phelps on equal (naked) grounds. Even a Biedermann with and without suit comparison would be interesting.

Anonymous said...

The problem for swimming is that without the tech suits it most likely will go back to "niche" sport status, at least in the U.S., competing with Hot Dog eating and poker contests.

The World Championships are on US TV for perhaps the first time ever because of Michael Phelps. Who is to say Phelps won't have his record 8 gold metals tainted with an * because of the tech suit? Poor ol' Mark Spitz couldn't even wear goggles.

What to do? The tech suits won't go away--too much money involved. How about separate swim events--one with tech suits and one without--and let's see which gains favor with officials, swimmers, and fans? The outcome should be obvious before London 2012.

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi Everyone, really pleased with all the comments here as per normal on the site.

Just a short aside--all this talk about swimming naked and also the one comment about Biedermann vs. Phelps naked, I reckon we organize the event and promote a series of naked duels!

Many women will tune in to see Phelps and almost any other pro male swimmer in the buff, and we all know that any two naked women will draw a massive (male) crowd and TV audience!

I reckon tickets would go for hundreds each, and the TV rights would be lucrative!

Ha ha ha. . .seriously, though, thanks for all the thoughtful comments, I will weigh in later with some more serious thoughts!

Kind Regards,

Tom R said...

I think comparing paddling sports to swimming is apples to oranges. In paddle sports, the original basis started in a technology: the technology of the boat, the technology of the paddle. It started with objects meant to aid locomotion. Swimming however didn't. It started with human-only locomotion. The idea behind paddling began with technology, while swimming didn't. I think that's where this is actually quite unique. There are only 2 sports (racing-type sports) which are totally human powered and began without the aid of some basic type of technology: swimming and running. (Well, I guess wheelbarrow races count too http://media.collegepublisher.com/media/paper927/stills/443af1a14431b-99-1.jpg ) From where I stand, this situation seems a lot more like the Pistorius debate. A completely new technology added to a sport that started without, which obviously aids performance. I don't quite know what FINA should do. On one hand it definitely helped put the sport in the mainstream; on the other it bastardized the history and created a "space race" in which one has to sink more and more money into the sport to remain competitive. One of the reasons swimming is popular among suburbanites is the relative cost compared to other sports: goggles, speedo, towel. As opposed to: cleats, shin gaurds, shorts, ball, goal, away shirt, home shirt.

Leanne, UK said...

These new suits are putting a dark light over what was such a simple sport. I, myself, am a swimmer, and very much upsets me that the only reason the sport is getting into the news and on headlines is down to the contraversial new bodysuits. i compete in a speedo fastskin, which is what the top swimmers used to compete in! and up until late, the fast skin suits satisfied what the sport wanted and created excitement for major meets.
but down to, what can only seem to be greed from the sponsers, i.e speedo, arena, TYR, that they will go to extreme lengths to exploit the good names in swimming.
the news that FINA have decided to put back the ban to april/may next year is appauling!
though i do love to watch the swimming when it is occasionally on the television, this year is not anywhere near as exciting for me as, say, the commonwealth of 2006. far too many world records are being broken to, hate to say this, but possibly athletes that are undeserving of the titles. i know how hard people work in training, i do it myself. but if i were to put a suit on like that, and peform at my best, i wouldnt be far off international standard, not regional level!!
though they may get banned sometime next year, technology is improving all the time and there will come a point where such suits appear again but within the rules of FINA. in my opinion, we are fighting a losing battle. where there is major competition between the giant companies, there is always money to be spent improving to be the best. it will always be an ongoing battle.

Mike Jones said...

Although everybody seems to be treating it lightheartedly, naked swimming would be the fairest way. After shaving off all body hair there isn't much more you can do.

Perhaps a close second is for only one simple fabric to be allowed and the maximum total surface area of fabric to be controlled (although should that be by square inches or percentage of wearer's total skin area?)

Martin said...

Alright lads,

been reading your posts for quite a while, thought i'd chip in with a quick comment this time.

i agree about it being a problem with us not knowing who's actually the better swimmer.

However I don't think it is a problem for how Spitz, Thorpe etc will be remembered.

In speedskating all records went very very quickly as soon as they invented the new skates (around 1998??).

same as all records were broken as soon as the sport moved indoors. But still the likes of Heiden, Koss etc are viewed as the best ever. Even if mediocre athletes can beat their times nowadays.

I reckon that's pretty much what we'll see with swimming as well

K-O said...

To those interested - please check out this 1979 article. It seems that history, indeed, repeats itself. To state the parallels here would be obnoxious - they are obvious in the article.



tr3v said...

Thanks K-O - I was about to ask the same question. Those nylon Speedos were probably very expensive when first introduced. One day the new suits will be affordable, and I will look slimmer, and swim faster than Mark Spitz :-)

Its evolution, lets evolve.

David said...

I'm all for technological evolution but the answer for swimming seems to be choose an official fabric for competition swimsuits.

To avoid completely killing innovation and the swimsuit companies, swimsuit design - everything beyond the fabric - could be a free-for-all. Full body suit, little bikini, sleeves, wings, whatever, just use the same material. It would be wise to ban hoods, gloves and booties, if they have not already.

They could pick the fastest current material in order to avoid rewriting the record books.

In short order, the manufacturers will sell all kinds of suits and the differences between them will be minimal.

Ralph said...

I'm not sure it's really that important... Just like with the Javelin change, it made no difference to the fact that everyone knows that Jan Zelezny was the greatest ever. To me its about dominance over a significant period. Current times don't influence my view that Coe and Ovett were greats - but based on todays time's you wouldn't rate them.

Bannister comes to mind too, but then you can also perhaps position the whole sorry decline from the good doctor. His use of pacemakers to beat the record set the scene for the endless pursuit of records, and the use of science to do it (sorry doctors Ross and Dugas - back to you guys in a moment). It's a shame to have to wait for the Olympics to see athletes race eachother instead of the clock. Ban pacemakers I say!

But first back to Coe and Ovett - whilst they're back to back world record breaking was part of the legend, a greater part of their legacy was the fact that they were really competing against eachother (even when they weren't in the same race!) So records aside, sport is about the ultimate pursuit of victory against other human beings - not the clock. When they did compete head to head, Moscow 1980 - well, I can't talk about it, cos I get too choked with nostalgia!

Leonard/Duran/Hagler. No times, no world records, just great sport.

So let them break records in the pool, we'll remember Spitz,and as the new times are set, it will make little difference.

Oh, and Drs Ross and Dugas - despite the problems it brings, the science brought sport is part of the excitement of it - as long as we're not naive enough to compare Phelps with Spitz, bring on the records - even the swimming ones are exciting - I've just this moment watched Van Den Burgh get a WR and Gold for South Africa!!!!

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi all

Some great comments, thanks! I can't do justice to each one separately, so I'll try to sum up an overall response, and then I'm also working on a post for later today, inspired by your comments!

First, to Kevin (K-O) - thank you so much for that link, but for some reason, it doesn't work for me. I'll try to find that same article, though, it sounds very interesting and I'd love to draw comparisons. I'm doing some analysis that might need that article to help me explain it!

To the others, I take your point about the records, and granted, we'll never "forget" about great swimmers just because they've been wiped out of hte books. However, I do think there is some aspirational quality of enduring records that has now been wiped clean as well. It's interesting to note the comments made by the coaches and swimmers themselves - they seem to hold the world record issue in quite high regard. For example, Phelps' coach said the following:

We've lost all the history of the sport," Bowman said. "Does a 10-year-old boy in Baltimore want to break Paul Biedermann's record? Is that going to make him join swimming?

Phelps himself has said: "Technology has to go forward but I am looking forward to the time when we can go back to pure swimming."

The reason I bring this up is because I think the rapid introduction of technology throws the swimmers themselves into a bit of disequilibrium, and their comments are very interesting. no one enjoys the current situation.

However, I'm certainly coming round to the belief that it's not so much the history, but the equality of competition and our ability to compare swimmers that is the problem here. I'm not talking about previous generation vs this one either (as some have pointed out, there are few sports where you can do this - who was better, Zatopek or Bekele?).

However, what I will say is that swimming is a sport where creating equal competition is going to be more difficult than most sports, as I mentioned in the post. And because of how FINA has managed this whole issue, these world championships are pretty difficult to take seriously. That's unfair on all swimmers, because the winners may well be the best in the world, but we'll never know for certain, and that is not sport. Therefore, the solution may not be to take the suits away, but it is also, I am sure, not to simply say let us evolve with technology, because there is no end in sight to the current disparity. Swimming lacks credibility as a result of these suits. Not only the world records, but also the competitive nature of the sport, so something needs to change.

I hear you that it may not be the best to ban the suits (that should have been done long ago), but certainly some intervention is required.

Thanks again!

Arnaud said...

Hi Ross,

Even in Formula 1, track records are not broken with the regularity in swimming. So, while technology plays a major role in Formula 1, it is still not as dominant as in swimming...


Anonymous said...

I agree with Simon. It seems like people are being a little hypocrite. Maybe now we have a fair playing field.

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi anonymous

Except it's not an equal playing field, as was witnessed. So while Simon (and you) have a point about how the same people weren't complaining last year, it's not true to say it's equal now. And again, we've been critical of the suits from the beginning, and to be honest, the only people who are crying foul now and complaining are Speedo. Most others have never been hypocrites - they've been against it from the start.

If you follow the debate, the coaches and swimmers were calling for the suits to be banned back in June 2008. Their voices are now louder, but they haven't changed.

Anonymous said...

Greats point- the only hypocrite now is speedo (and Phelps). They both knew they had a superior suit and advantage going into Beijeing. Now that Phelps lost with an "old" suit all of a sudden it's unfair from thier perspective.
If / when they do ban the suit, what will people think of those "record" 8 gold medals...

Vava said...

Lest we forget that the suit Phelps wears, consisting of 50% polyurethane material, is also performance enhancing. He is a great swimmer, no doubt, but to win 8 golds in Beijing and set 8 world records would likely not have happened had he not been wearing the best technology available at the time. In my opinion, all swimmers should go back to the little Speedo. No matter what that thing is made of (short of attaching an engine to it) the performance will not be enhanced and we will have the even playing field that is the desire of all athletes and fans.

Unknown said...

It was inevitable that technology eventually reached swimming. What is surprising is that it took so long. As much as the purists or traditionalists hate the thought, swimming is now changed forever. There is no going back or delaying the inevitable by trying to ban technological development of the swimming costume. It will not do to have the elite swimmers of the world swimming slower than a club or casual swimmer simply because they are not allowed to use the technology, however fair it makes the competition. It is like banning technology from a Formula 1 car and having a normal passenger vehicle able to lap faster around a track.
As Einstein pointed out, you can’t solve problems at the same level as you created them. As ludicrous as this sounds, we must now accept that swimming and power boating are pretty much synonymous, the only difference being that one is powered by a human machine. What swimming has to do is to accept the technology and manage it to make it as fair as possible for all the elite competitors. So, as for power boating or motorsport, lay down rules and regulations, introduce costume checks, and then either go with a F1 scenario where the manufacturers are allowed to develop their own costumes within certain guidelines or have a NASCAR type scenario where a finite number of manufacturers create a “chassis” and the swimmers have a choice of one of these for their event.
I can almost hear the traditionalists being sick. But their nausea is going to get worse because athletics and road running can’t be far behind. After all, we already have a bionic man who is cleared to run if he makes the qualifying times. It is a short step to aerodynamic suits, body implants, and special shoes. Pure, unadulterated, mano-a-mano competition is very close to being history altogether. Drugs put paid to fair competition a long time ago already. Kicking and screaming won’t help. It is time to accept and manage the situation. Swimming has now joined all those other sports where one can’t be sure if it is the man or the equipment doing the winning. Because this whole scenario is so new, there are obviously disparities right now, but these will soon be wiped out. Speedo will not sit still and will be back on a par with the other manufacturers sooner rather than later. And as with other sports such as golf and tennis, all the elite competitors will have access to the latest technologies and then it just remains a case of seeing who can utilise them the best. It may not be pretty, but welcome to progress.

Unknown said...

This is a very significant time for swimming, and thoughtfull decisions need to be made. I fear that banning technology from swimming is merely an emotional kneejerk reaction. As a competitive swimmeer from grade school to college I was fortunate to set my share of records along the way. I love watching people swim as fast as they can, and I also value the integrity of the record books. It is certainly not fair to lump a technologicaly leveraged (the new suits in this case) record in with a relativley unleveraged record (old suits).

A simple, elegant, solution would be to divide swimming records in two. One 'unlimited' class, where technology is allowed free reign within some broad parameters. And a 'limited' class where technology is locked in at some arbitray level - say, circa the year 2000. The unlimited class records would start with all recors set since 2000 and would continue to be set at a rapid pace at any meets declared and organized as unlimited class meets. The records for limited class meets would be rolled back to circa 2000 times and continue to be set at meets declared limited. A solution like this costs no one their records and does much work to keep the records in thier proper context. at this juncture the vexing question becomes wether or not the high profile meets like the world championships and olympics are declared limited or unlimited.


Anonymous said...

When the LZRs were introduced, I thought they should be banned, and up until the World Championships, I thought all 'new' suits should be banned, and then I watched the championships.

Right now, I think that the new suits should be allowed to stay. They are what has injected a new lease of life into swimming. Having said, I think a line should be drawn where we are to keep the technology where it is at now.

It was irritating to hear commentators doubt the 400 mens record because it previously belonged to Thorpe. As soon as they said that, a picture of the Thorpedo came to mind, and if the suits in which he made his records were not performance enhancing (and therefore unfair to the previous record holders) then I don't know my name.

What the new technology has done is open our eyes to the fact that the greatest swimmers were Spitz, Popov etc. Phelps is also great, but unfortunately, I fear that history will judge him as being a 'technology suit great' - just like Biederman etc. It is not that they are not great, they are just not as great as the true greats.

Lastly, with the suits, talent is beginning to re-emerge. It was fascinating to watch some of the finals - in some, at least half of the pool wore Arenas/Jakeds, yet only 1 person won. The winning time might have been faster than ever before, but with the best swimmers in technology suits, be they 100 or 50% polyurethane, only pure talent and fitness was enabling swimmers to touch first.

Until this year, I had always been a great fan of Phelps and Bowman, but after reading about their whinges about the "suits" etc.; no more - because "what is good for the goose is good for the gander"! Funny actually, that Phelps wasn't "fit" in the 200 free, but clearly NOT unfit in the 100 and 200 fly! I believe in the 200 free, I saw him beaten (2ce!) by a much better freestyler.

Re the comment above about Biederman being 5th in the Olympics last year etc. - wasn't Phelps 5th in his first Olympics? What happened months after that?


Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...


Your post is a pretty good illustration of the debate around swimming, and maybe the biggest problem with the new costumes.

I certainly agree with you that the Speedo LZR should have been banned, and put an end to this situation right then. However, having come this far down the track, it is much more difficult to to something, and so I see your point about allowing them to stay.

And you're 100% right about Thorpe - I have suggested that if they ban these records, then they might as well ban every single record set in anything but briefs since about 2000, which would kind of clear his name from the books as well - I don't know that his suit was a performance enhancer, but one can't be selective in applying the rule - if they go for a brief suit from the knees to the navel, then his records go as well...

Where I think one must just be careful is to make blanket statements regarding who was the best swimmer. And you've picked up on this later, when you point out that in Rome, most swimmers were in Arena and Jaked, and the best swimmer won. The same was true in beijing - most swimmers, I dare say, had the Speedo LZR or the Arena equivalent, and so the racing in Beijing was at least as equal as in Rome.

So, if you are going to propose that the best talent emerges regardless of suit, then PHelps must also be said to be the best. And while I hate to come across as a Phelps-defendant, I think 14 Olympic Golds (and counting) qualifies one as the best, ahead of Popov and Spitz, because as I say, most of the challengers are in the same equipment (particularly in Athens, where this controversy didn't exist).

I do agree that their position on the suits now comes across as whining, but I also think they're not alone. They're attracting the most attention, because it's Phelps, but actually, a lot of people have been saying the same thing about the suits. Even the guys wearing the faster suits are saying it! So while I agree that Phelps is complaining now, and didn't in Beijing, I don't necessarily agree that he's lost any standing, because everyone is complaining now.

And finally, the point about the better swimmer in the 200m freestyle - isn't that just the problem with the suits? We'll never know! If Biedermann is right, and the suit is worth 2 seconds, then the best swimmer didn't win. However, it might just be that he is better. We'll only find that out if they do ban the suits and we get the rematch. THat's the sad thing about the World Champs.

Oh, then just to respond to the last point, yes, Phelps came 5th, but that was at the age of 15 and his time was 1:56:50. Five months later, he swam 1:54.92 to break the world record - an improvement of 1.6 seconds. Biedermann improved by 4 seconds and 6 seconds respectively - that's not a comparison. Also, it's not surprising that a swimmer can be in top shape in one event but not another - ask why more butterfly swimmers don't also dominate freestyle - success in one does not guarantee success in another.