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Jewish World Review
March 26, 2009
/ 1 Nisan 5769
Vindication is sweet! During last summer's Olympics, I
wrote in this space that the high-tech swimsuits worn by competitive
swimmers in the events and manufactured by Speedo with the assistance of
NASA scientists were irrelevant to sport and destined for further
controversy. In fact, I argued that the suit, known as the Speedo LZR
Racer, is as inappropriate for competitive swimming as wearing swim fins
in the pool. Now a rising chorus of swimming coaches and competitors at
this week's NCAA Division I swimming championships seems to agree.
The LZRs are made of high-tech material. They cover a competitor's body
from shoulders to ankles. The material allows the body to float higher
in the water. It also offers less resistance to the water than human
skin, allowing those who encase themselves in it to glide through the
water faster. Consequently, in championships, everyone wants to wear an
LZR. Those who do obviously have an unfair advantage over those who, for
whatever reason, do not. Not surprisingly, since the arrival of the LZR,
the incidence of world records has increased though that does not
mean that today's champions in the high-tech suits are really faster
than pre-high-tech swimmers.
In fact, the use of the high-tech suits by Michael Phelps last summer
casts doubt on the claim that his performance was greater than that of
Mark Spitz in 1972. Phelps won eight golds, one more than Spitz. But
Spitz, wearing a pre-tech suit best described as a brief, set world
records in every event he won. Phelps equaled Spitz's seven world
records, but the records he beat were set in olden times, before the
advent of the LZR. It is estimated that the LZR improves a swimmer's
time by at least 3 percent. Did Phelps best each world record by at
least 3 percent? He did not. Spitz's Olympic performance is arguably
We can thank the inventers of this idiotic aquatic contraption for this
idiotic debate. Also, we must thank NCAA officials who last September
decided to allow its use in intercollegiate swimming. Why did they not
allow the use of swim fins, too?
Now coaches are grumbling that the high-tech suits have introduced a
variable into the sport that detracts from the essence of competitive
swimming stroke mechanics, rigorous training and competitive drive.
Dennis Dale, the swimming coach at the University of Minnesota, told The
Wall Street Journal, "I'm very disappointed that our sport has come to a
point where I have to be as concerned with the swimsuits as I am with
the swimmers." Said Phil Whitten, executive director of the College Swim
Coaches Association: "It's like having one pole-vaulter using a
fiberglass pole and another using a wooden pole. It's an absolute mess."
Moreover, the introduction of high-tech suits not only gives an
advantage to the competitors who wear them. The LZR gives a special
advantage to fat swimmers yes, I said fat swimmers. The suits
compress competitors' flesh, making their bodies more buoyant and
allowing them to float higher in the water. Yet when the fat of
corpulent swimmers is compressed, their bodies become more buoyant than
the bodies of lean, dense-muscled swimmers. Thus, the fatties, according
to the Journal, "Float higher in the water and swim faster."
Another problem is that the LZR suits are tremendously expensive.
Whereas the ordinary briefs that most swimmers still wear cost about $25
each, the LZR costs $550. Equally appalling, it is good for only a few
races before it is worn out and falls apart. This adds thousands of
dollars more to the costs of athletic programs that might better use
their money on scholarships. The LZR redirects competitive swimming from
sport to technological experimentation. It causes athletic programs to
place a swimmer's swimsuit above an athlete's education.
At the heart of the matter, we see a clever swimsuit manufacturer
expanding its profits hugely by bringing out a hitherto-unimagined
product. What allowed Speedo to get away with this? Doubtless, the
officials at the NCAA assume that they are part of history's march to
progress. Well, if it is progress when swimmers wearing high-tech
swimsuits break world records, it would be even more progressive if the
swimmers took up my suggestion and wore swim fins. With them, the
swimmers would swim even faster and at much less cost. A standard pair
of fins goes for about $30, and they last for years.
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JWR contributor Bob Tyrrell is editor in chief of The American Spectator. Comment by clicking here.
© 2008, Creators Syndicate