Bloomers and Black Stockings

By David

On December 19, 2008 Swimwatch published a story called “Much Ado About Neoprene”. The article discussed the implications of a meeting FINA was scheduled to have with 16 swimwear manufacturers. The purpose of the meeting was to recommend amendments to the “FINA Requirements for Swimwear Approval”. Amendments, FINA thought, were needed to control the technology being applied to swimsuit manufacture. The recommendations would then be considered by the FINA Bureau at its March meeting in Dubai. That Bureau certainly does themselves well in the exotic locations department.

Arguably the suit that started it all, the Speedo LZR Racer

The meeting with the 16 manufacturers has been held. The recommendations have been published. Here is what the delegates in Dubai will consider.

  • Swimsuits shall not cover the cover the neck nor extend past the shoulder or ankles.
  • The material shall have a maximum thickness of 1mm; it will follow the body shape and shall not create air trapping effects.
  • The swimsuit shall not have a buoyancy effect of more than 1 Newton.
  • Any system of external stimulation is prohibited.
  • Swimsuits must not be modified for individual swimmers.
  • Swimmers can only wear one suit at a time.
  • FINA will establish a swimsuit control/testing program.

I have no idea whether these controls ensure swimsuits are fair and honest. They seem sensible, but then I don’t even know what one Newton means. There is a certain irony in the rule demanding suits do not cover a swimmer’s arms. It was not so long ago that the same organisation insisted girls cover those extremities. In the not-so-distant-past, this organisation would have had swimmers wearing men’s shorts like this for the 100 butterfly, and women’s bloomers along these lines for the 200 IM. This does not cheat former swimmers out of their achievements; it is simply the natural progression of the sport and its technology.

The recommendations conclude with a statement from FINA President, Mustapha Larfaoui that says, “While we need to remain open to evolution, the most important factors must be the athlete’s preparation and physical condition on achieving their performances.”

Larfaoui does not explain himself very well. Preparation and physical condition are just as much evolution as new swimsuits. However, if he means what I think he means, then he is quite right. Preparation and physical condition should be foremost in determining the quality of a swimming performance. If the seven recommendations coming out of Switzerland help ensure that is the case, then we can be well pleased. What I don’t understand is why the clearly stated efforts of some companies to push the technology envelope come in for such suspicion. Pushing technology is not necessarily cheating – it’s not even maybe cheating.

Take Rocket Science Sport for example. Their CEO is a guy called Marcin Sochacki. He’s quite open about his goals. Here’s what he says, “Our Company has pushed the edge of technology and perhaps designed a suit that is ahead of its time. The swimsuit complies with all the proposed regulations including buoyancy and thickness except for the length of the sleeve. I do not see this as a set back but proof that our company walks on the razor’s edge in pursuit of technology and innovation. We have a sleeveless version that we look forward to seeing on swimmers in Rome.”

I like that attitude. It’s the way progress is made. Equipment manufacturers do the same thing all the time. Anti-turbulence lane lines, the new Omega starting blocks, improved pool water flow characteristics, deeper pools – there are a million things that give 2009 swimmers a technological edge over their 1960 mates. Thanks to people like Marcin Sochacki, we make progress and that’s a good thing. A favourite hobby of mine is pouring over the US Swimming rule book searching for a rule that might give a clue on how to steal an advantage – not an illegitimate advantage, just an advantage. Upward fly kicks in a breaststroke kick, fly kicks after a turn, delayed breaststroke kicks, track starts and a dozen other innovations are all the result of someone being ahead of their time. So if Rocket Science Sport is trying to do the same thing for swimsuits that I’m trying to do in the pool, then all power to them. That’s not cheating; that’s just “the pursuit of technology and innovation.” It is change that should be welcomed and embraced.

Some dinosaurs, Craig Lord for example, see perils in just about every innovation. He even called the new swim suits “steroid swim suits”. He appears to go to some lengths to exclude Speedo and Arena from that label. I’ve never quite understood why. Why are the suits made by those companies any different? Did they take him to the Ritz for lunch or something? Fortunately Lord’s respect, and hopefully traffic, is declining faster than the New York Stock Exchange. I too hope Rocket Science has swimmers in Rome wearing their suits. I hope I have swimmers in London wearing them. That would certainly be better than some who wish is to see us all in bloomers and black stockings again.