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U.S. Olympic gold medallist swimmer Michael Phelps (L) and U.S. swimmer Natalie Coughlin model the new Speedo brand swimsuits "Speedo FASTSKIN3" at a news conference in New York November 30, 2011. (EDUARDO MUNOZ/REUTERS)
U.S. Olympic gold medallist swimmer Michael Phelps (L) and U.S. swimmer Natalie Coughlin model the new Speedo brand swimsuits "Speedo FASTSKIN3" at a news conference in New York November 30, 2011. (EDUARDO MUNOZ/REUTERS)


Swimsuits take another technological leap forward Add to ...

In a sport that has been affected by technology more than most others, manufacturers have again changed the game and again may be helping to rewrite the record books.

Swimsuit manufacturers have made their latest move to create a water-shedding super suit with cap and goggles, launching a three-piece ensemble Wednesday in New York.

It’s the latest bid to advance the battle of sport technology past the now-banned polyurethane suits that came out before the 2008 Olympics. Those inflexible suits – which could take 45 minutes and a helping hand to get into – made the body buoyant and created a flurry of records. It was not something swimming’s governing body, FINA, wanted to see when the record book was rewritten more than 40 times at the Beijing Games in 2008 and at the 2009 world championships in Rome. The high-tech suit was banned and engineers went back to the drawing board.

Wednesday, they unveiled the future.

And with new technology that’s supplanting the polyurethane suit, 14-time Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps of the United States predicts records will fall, again, next summer at the 2012 London Games.

“People have got to get out of their heads that these records are untouchable,” Phelps told Reuters. “Everything is possible. That’s something I have learned in my career. You’re going to see a lot of fast swims and hopefully we’re going to see a lot of new records in the next year and I think we will.”

The new technology is based on three parts working together, from the cap down to the knees, not just the suit itself.

“The discussion wasn’t just about the suit but also the cap – which is almost a bowl, worn with an under-cap to keep the hair in place – and the goggles, which were the most comfortable I’ve worn,” said Swimming Canada chief executive officer Pierre Lafontaine, who was in New York to see manufacturer Speedo launch its latest generation Fastskin3 system.

The new system’s cap is designed using three-dimensional head mapping to fit head and face exactly. The goggles, Lafontaine said, allow a swimmer to see the lane beside him or her a little more clearly. They are leak-resistant, have an improved outer profile and offer 180-degree peripheral vision. The suit has compression fabric to stop muscle vibration, flexible fabric in the shoulders to offer high stretch and a flat-seamed body stability web which makes for a 3-per-cent improvement in starts and turns, the maker says. Men’s swim shorts – or jammers – have no drawstring, making for a flatter fit; and women’s suits have a unique armhole entry system.

Swimming has been affected by technological changes more than most sports. In other sports, technology has been geared toward competition. In mountain biking, for example, four women with helmet-mounted cameras went around the course to be used at London’s 2012 Olympics, so that Canadian riders have a feel for what lies ahead and can groom for the Games. But with polyurethane suits, the idea was to find a loophole in the regulations and gain an advantage – a technological kind of doping. It rendered the record book and historic performances meaningless.

Officials hope that the new system will result in records falling at the 2012 Olympics in London. When FINA banned the polyurethane suits and swimmers went back to a hodge-podge of old technologies, swimmers went about 20 months without a record-setting performance.

“It helps to have technology with you,” Lafontaine said. “You’re not racing to be second on the podium.”

U.S. backstroker and world record holder Ryan Lochte pronounced himself “unstoppable” with the new technology. Canadian freestyler Ryan Cochrane, an Olympic medalist at Beijing, was also among the stable of athletes the manufacturer brought in for the reveal.

“Being unbeatable can only come with the great work you put in and [Cochrane’s coach]Randy Bennett is making sure he’s doing that. He had to do his workout in Manhattan this morning before he could go to the press conference,” Lafontaine said.

The claim for the system is that it will produce an 11-per-cent improvement in oxygen economy and reduced drag, which will help a distance swimmer cut through the water stronger for longer periods.

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