Is it the suit?
May 19, 2009 4:35 PM   Subscribe

Today FINA, swimming's international body, released a list of approved suits. And with that, swimming took its first step towards sanity or towards ruin, depending on where you stand. Since the approval of Speedo's LZR Racer before the Olympics and concomitant widespread destruction of world records, the swim community has been riven by the suits: Are they too much aid or are they just a technical improvement, like when tennis moved beyond the wooden racket? The debate is best catalyzed by the case of Fred Bousquet, first man under 19s in 50 yards and under 21s in 50 meters. Attacked by anti-suit zealot Craig Lord of SwimNews, Bousquet's coach fires back in a blog whose comments themselves do a great job of demonstrating the divide. (Lord responds.)

Meanwhile, Bluseventy, whose suit took swimming by storm for being cheaper, more durable , and — in the lead up to the Olympic Trials — more available than the LZR is nowhere on the list at all. Did Speedo, main sponsor of FINA, have anything to do with that?
posted by dame (59 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
Neat post, thanks!
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 4:36 PM on May 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


More discussion of Speedo and Blueseventy on the Masters Swimming forums.
posted by dame at 4:40 PM on May 19, 2009


This could all be solved if everyone just swam naked.
posted by one_bean at 4:45 PM on May 19, 2009 [21 favorites]


speedo also views your birthday suit as a competitor. upcoming endorsements will come with the understanding that the spokesperson will remove their skin.
posted by the aloha at 5:04 PM on May 19, 2009


I second one_bean's notion.
posted by kanewai at 5:10 PM on May 19, 2009


I mean motion. I think. Whatever. I like it.
posted by kanewai at 5:10 PM on May 19, 2009


It doesn't explain why those old European guys feel compelled to wear Speedos around the community pool.
posted by digsrus at 5:27 PM on May 19, 2009


That certainly seems like the kind of arbitrary decision-making that is prone to corruption.
posted by smackfu at 5:32 PM on May 19, 2009


the swim community has been riven

Wow. Remember that game? I remember it being awesome, but that was a long time ago, so who knows.
posted by koeselitz at 5:55 PM on May 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


Are there any kind of solid stats showing precisely what sort of time advantage these things are offering? Does swimmer X swim the hundred-meter freestyle in Y seconds wearing old suit, and Y - 0.5 seconds wearing newfangled supersuit? Or is everyone just guessing that they might have something to do with it?

I know a swimmer will swim different speeds on different days of the week, but it seems like there'd be some way to extract quantifiable scientific results by some method of testing. Robots? Mythbusters?
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:00 PM on May 19, 2009


I'm not a swimming fan, but it seems to be this isn't actually about fairness; it's about the appearance of fairness. Fairness would be an extremely simple, standardized suit that was affordable by everyone. Something like this.

Of course, if you're a suit manufacturer selling bodyskin suits for 20 times the price of an old fashioned suit, you're probably against a standardized suit. If you're a professional swimmer, bodyskin suits let you break more records, serve as a barrier to entry for amateurs, and you're not paying for them anyway.

So FINA is going to make a decision that looks fair, but is in no way actually fair. That's because being fair would cost them a lot of money.
posted by christonabike at 6:18 PM on May 19, 2009 [8 favorites]


Nice post. This excerpt from the first link addresses some questions I had:
The expert panel sent back 136 of the 348 models to manufacturers, who have 30 days to resubmit modified designs.
The main area of controversy concerns new suits totally covered with polyurethane to aid buoyancy. The old suits only had polyurethane plates.
Fina said 136 other swimsuits needed to be modified to meet the requirement that "swimsuit material shall not be constructed to, or include elements or systems which, create air or water trapping effects during use".

I wonder about the "missing" suits that apparently were neither approved nor denied. How did suits get on the initial list?
posted by exogenous at 6:21 PM on May 19, 2009


Naked swimming would be really, really popular. I mean IS, not would be, come to think of it.
posted by Mister_A at 7:35 PM on May 19, 2009


Don't know that much about it, but can they. for example, directly test buoyancy? From my naïve vantage point, it seems like surface-drag reduction is fair game for suit design, whereas buoyancy enhancement is not. Why don't they just define what's fair and isn't based on some principles like that?
posted by Mental Wimp at 7:44 PM on May 19, 2009


Basically, if you swim wearing a body-form float, you're cheating. Next they'll be wearing suits made out of fiberglass in the shape of a kayaks.

I have a simple test: throw the suit in the water by itself. If it sinks to the bottom, it's okay. If it it floats on top of the water (with most of the suit above the water) it is suspect.
posted by eye of newt at 8:22 PM on May 19, 2009


ok. These suits main benefit is that they reduces drag across the chest/torso & then it gets complicated (PDF full of science on slightly outdated suit tech) about how it allows swimmers to move through the water. Speedo says 10% over old suits, but that's marketing.

There's three kinds of drag that are relevant to swimming quickly- the first is form or pressure drag. Think of making a wave with your hand - this form drag is basically the water that sweeps in behind you hand and the shape of your hand profoundly changes this drag. Second is skin friction drag, which is the water that passes over or very close to your skin. The third is the wave drag, which is the water you push in front of your hand and how fast you are moving makes an increasingly big difference for this type of drag. NOTE this is a rough approximation: fluid dynamics are not simple and each form of drag is influence by the others- like what is going on at the end of your fingers is rather complicated, for example. I was a swimmer and a coach so my understanding is rather rudimentary.

These new suits mainly improve 2 measures of drag. The skin or surface one - obviously because the material is slicker than your skin. Most people are fine with this technology. Less obvious and more contentious is the form/pressure drag reduction. These expensive suits change your shape and position in the water. And you will note that not all suits are not one uniform material - close examination shows that the different materials in different areas allows the swimmer to have a different shape moving through the water. Bear in mind that a .1 reduction in drag will move you from 16 to first in most races- so these changes are HUGE. The design of the suites can be quite different and thats what the whole air trapping argument & material thickness fights are essentially over - how much is too much variation to be allowed for racing. Simply adding buoyancy doesn't make you a faster swimmer - the location of the buoyancy is key.

Suit manufactures submit for FINA - which only govern races at the international level. These new judgements are different from the old ones, which is part of the reason these folks have been racing in "banned" outfits - everybody had their own interpretation. FINA is simply setting somewhat arbitrary standard - and may not be doing so consistently which is certain to cause issue - for example: Blueseventy (good stuff) was previously approved, but now its not - same basic rules! The big issue to me is that the standard seems to be the Speedo "lazer" gear - and completive/similar work from other firms has been rejected, which is BS in a big way - and others have drawn similar conclusions.

As for the expense of the suits: real racing suits have always been expensive. A "paper" suit would last only a handful of races (4) and cost upwards of 80$ USD, back when that was still worth something. Adjusted for inflation - these new Speedo suits only cost about 5X as much a speedo race outfit (and other brands only cost about 3X) - and the new one may last longer (like the TYR gear), although swimmers are notorious for using a suit just once. Relative to the cost of training & attending meets, these new suits are not terribly expensive and compared to most other sports it is pretty insignificant cost. Many folks who are racing at this level - like college athletes, will have their gear covered by their org/ agency. Still it does increase the price, so folks starting out it posses a significant barrier that wasn't traditionally large - now swimming is much more like many other over engineered sports like biking & skiing.
posted by zenon at 8:49 PM on May 19, 2009 [6 favorites]


From my naïve vantage point, it seems like surface-drag reduction is fair game for suit design, whereas buoyancy enhancement is not.

I don't know. In the end, both surface-drag reduction and buoyancy enhancement serve the same purpose: to increase the percentage of the swimmer's generated muscle force -- which is physiologically limited and hasn't changed too much over the years, I'd guess -- that can be "spent" directly on forward propulsion (versus being lost to drag or used to oppose gravity and stay afloat, respectively). So, really, no matter what the specific means by which a suit manufacturer is decreasing wasted effort in the water, the end result is the same: records fall without dramatic changes in the underlying athleticism of competitors.
posted by killdevil at 9:00 PM on May 19, 2009


zenon your description is nice, but there's no controversy over the issue of drag, only the issue of buoyancy.

It is as though you got those sheets of packing bubbles and wrapped yourself with them (bubbles inward so you don't increase drag), and then entered international competitions wearing these contraptions and beat world records with them.
posted by eye of newt at 9:05 PM on May 19, 2009


I have a simple test: throw the suit in the water by itself. If it sinks to the bottom, it's okay. If it it floats on top of the water (with most of the suit above the water) it is suspect.

She floats! She's a witch! A witch! Burn her!
posted by filthy light thief at 9:27 PM on May 19, 2009


If it's buoyancy they're worried about, good luck trying to define a standard duck to weigh the suits against.
posted by ooga_booga at 11:00 PM on May 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


This could all be solved if everyone just swam naked.

but then, lesser-endowed guys would be exposed to less drag - enough to make the difference between gold medal hero & also-swam.

top-level swimming would inevitably end up being a competition between a bunch of supermen with micropenises, and who'd be wanting to watch that?
posted by UbuRoivas at 11:58 PM on May 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


yeah I say make 'em swim naked.
posted by delmoi at 12:02 AM on May 20, 2009


Buoyancy is only a small part of it - its not like swimming in the dead sea makes you faster just cause you are more buoyant. Only 10 suits failed because of buoyancy/thickness of materials, the remaining 130+ failed for a different reason - "air trapping." Air trapping doesn't necessarily make you more buoyant - but it does change your drag.

Blue seventy (aka B70) had suits that were recently approved: like this one, which is still listed as FINA approved. All of Blue Seventy's suits have now been rejected because they were "classified as one of the suits that ”may cause significant air trapping when worn by the swimmers.”

Also from the dame's link to the Master's forum, a rep for Blue Seventy notes that: However, there are several other brands, [all] from a similar background as us, that have made suits that have used exactly the same fabric, and similar construction that have passed without a problem.

A TYR suit (tracer) that was approved two months ago failed this time. There is likely others.
posted by zenon at 12:02 AM on May 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Aside: I also forgot to mention the benefits of compression but FINA isn't even addressing it, that's another boost to the speed these suits provide.
posted by zenon at 12:04 AM on May 20, 2009


I really thought I'd never do this. I'm sorry.

Metafilter: a competition between a bunch of supermen with micropenises.
posted by one_bean at 12:19 AM on May 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


Just make sure everyone wears the same suit. It's supposed to be a swimming competition, not an R&D competition.
posted by pracowity at 12:46 AM on May 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


As the father of a high school swimmer, this has particular relevance for me. My son is among the top 15 or 20 male high school swimmers in Michigan. This last season, one of the high school teams showed up at the State Finals in Bluseventys. I don't know if they each bought them or if the team provided them; all I know is, I've got to shell out $400 or $500 bucks to get one for my kid. Right now I'm unemployed, so it seems like a big waste of money. But, it could be a smart investment. At this level, there's real money involved ... scholarship money. One of these suits could easily put my son in the top ten in the state. That could mean a big difference in the scholarships he's offered. So, do I buy one or not? Help me with this moral quandary, Mefites!
posted by DaddyNewt at 1:13 AM on May 20, 2009 [3 favorites]


but then, lesser-endowed guys would be exposed to less drag - enough to make the difference between gold medal hero & also-swam.

If this happens, I predict the introduction of some kind of winged keel cock ring. By the Australian swimmers, of course.
posted by tim_in_oz at 1:36 AM on May 20, 2009


but then, lesser-endowed guys would be exposed to less drag

It depends what kind of drag you're talking about. In any event, I think the guys with anything to be embarrassed about just wouldn't wqant to be swimmers, and you'd instead get lots of very well-hung showers (not growers) signing up for swimming as an excuse to show off.
posted by pracowity at 2:19 AM on May 20, 2009


all I know is, I've got to shell out $400 or $500 bucks to get one for my kid

As I understand this, another problem with the suits is they only last six or seven races. After which the extremely tight and body reshaping fit simply won't be that tight anymore, because the material has been stretched out too far.

Swimming has become a money sport, in that sense.
posted by ijsbrand at 3:01 AM on May 20, 2009


winged keel cock ring

i already use one with fins, for when i go nuddy bodysurfing.

following time-proven surfboard technology, mine's a thruster.
posted by UbuRoivas at 3:09 AM on May 20, 2009


It depends what kind of drag you're talking about.

i saw what you did there.
posted by UbuRoivas at 3:09 AM on May 20, 2009


Here's the thing. Is swimming supposed to be about pushing the natural human body, or is it about making a human being move quickly as possible through the water?

If it's the latter, then why not stick an outboard motor on all the athletes and have done with it?
posted by JHarris at 3:50 AM on May 20, 2009


@DaddyNewt , I would get one of these suits, only to be used in competitions that you both deem to be very important. They don't last, like ljsbrand said - but the mental support of "unemployed dad believes in me so much he got me this $$$uit" can be quite the booster of athletic performance.
posted by dabitch at 3:50 AM on May 20, 2009


So, do I buy one or not? Help me with this moral quandary, Mefites!

I just shelled out $150.00 so my daughter could take 3 AP tests, placing out of three 3-hour college courses. I felt no moral quandary about saving ~$5000.00.
posted by Devils Rancher at 5:07 AM on May 20, 2009


Is swimming supposed to be about pushing the natural human body, or is it about making a human being move quickly as possible through the water?

Choice 3: self-propelling a human being as quickly as possible through the water.
posted by smackfu at 5:49 AM on May 20, 2009


Bouyancy, air trapping, $400-$500 per suit that only lasts a few races?

christonabike is right, this is ruining the sport. There should be a standard issue suit. Way back when I took swimming in high school everyone was told what type of suit to wear and it was the same as what everyone else wore.

Of course those companies charging $400-500 a suit would fight this tooth and nail.
posted by eye of newt at 7:25 AM on May 20, 2009


I'm going to invent a suit that traps compressed air. It will jet propel the swimmer across the pool in a couple of seconds.
posted by eye of newt at 7:26 AM on May 20, 2009


Everyone should be forced to drag a small parachute behind them.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:36 AM on May 20, 2009


One thing is for sure... Craig Lord is an ass.
posted by markkraft at 7:38 AM on May 20, 2009


From now on, all car races will be held to 1915 Frontenac Model-T specs.

After considerable review, we have decided that innovation in automobile design comes at too high a price, and only serves to degrade the sport. The latest designs are too expensive, and offer no promise for the future other than to tarnish our shared traditions and historical legacy of great champions.

From now on, gloves, goggles, and silk scarves will be required racing accessories. Handlebar mustaches, top hats, and cloaks will be allowed ONLY for those who declare themselves as villians, who are allowed to use shortcuts to pull ahead of other racers, and leave traps, so long as they are designed to backfire on them, allowing others to win the race. Villains are allowed to use profanities such as "Drat!" and "Blast!"
posted by markkraft at 8:13 AM on May 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


Man, that Wacky Races Dreamcast game could've been so much better.
posted by box at 8:20 AM on May 20, 2009


After considerable review, we have decided that innovation in automobile design comes at too high a price, and only serves to degrade the sport.

I assume you are joking but this is actually how NASCAR works. They still run with carburetors for instance. Try to buy even a modern production car with one of them.
posted by smackfu at 8:30 AM on May 20, 2009


"Just make sure everyone wears the same suit. It's supposed to be a swimming competition, not an R&D competition."

Do any other sports have a spec uniform? Are dry land athletes restricted to a specific shoe? Why would swimming be held to a higher standard than every other sport out there?

Besides it would seem that any particular suit would benefit or hinder some more than others, if only because competitors aren't storm troopers. Size differences would mean that the suits won't be identical.

"but then, lesser-endowed guys would be exposed to less drag - enough to make the difference between gold medal hero & also-swam.

"top-level swimming would inevitably end up being a competition between a bunch of supermen with micropenises, and who'd be wanting to watch that?"


Is it already the case in women's swimming that only the lesser endowed are competitive?
posted by Mitheral at 9:20 AM on May 20, 2009


"I assume you are joking but this is actually how NASCAR works. They still run with carburetors for instance. Try to buy even a modern production car with one of them."

Even better: Cycle Karting.
posted by Mitheral at 9:38 AM on May 20, 2009


Is it already the case in women's swimming that only the lesser endowed are competitive?

No, but girls size down so much and the suits are so compressive that you are not very boobtacular whatever you may look like in clothes or a practice suit.

So, do I buy one or not? Help me with this moral quandary, Mefites!

A good college coach will take into account what suit you were wearing. But if it really stresses you, the Pro comes in under $200 these days.
posted by dame at 11:42 AM on May 20, 2009


Do any other sports have a spec uniform? Are dry land athletes restricted to a specific shoe? Why would swimming be held to a higher standard than every other sport out there?

Well, bicycle racing has restrictions that can get pretty esoteric. You can't use aero style handlebars in a mass start race, and I think disc and tri-spoke aero wheels are limited to time trial events as well. Same for the highly aerodynamic teardrop helmets. But even beyond time trial versus mass start racing, there are some (potentially outdated, according to the manufacturers) limitations on the minimum weight of a frame, and there are some geometric considerations for what qualifies as a valid racing bike, like a saddle being within x degrees of the bottom bracket being the big one I remember. So I don't know that it's really a higher standard for swimmers, just as certain suits aren't permissible in sanctioned swimming, certain frames aren't permissible in sanctioned cycling.
posted by Kyol at 1:11 PM on May 20, 2009


Golf has many of the same issues. Certain manufacturers figure out a way to make a club hit farther or a ball to travel farther, and then the USGA decides whether it's legal (and gets sued). These new technologies are also invariably more expensive.

Golf is saved a bit because there is a sizable precision component of the game. In swimming, I suppose this would be the start and the turns, but they seem to be outweighed by the power aspects.
posted by smackfu at 1:17 PM on May 20, 2009


Help me with this moral quandary, Mefites!

Buy!
posted by Mental Wimp at 2:23 PM on May 20, 2009


Golf is saved a bit because there is a sizable precision component of the game. In swimming, I suppose this would be the start and the turns, but they seem to be outweighed by the power aspects.

Actually, I would say swimming is at least as much a question of technique as golf, though it may not seem so. Water is hard to hold with your hands and even harder to hold with your feet. Plus there is the whole question of balance. In fact, one of the debates about the suit is that it helps powerful athletes mitigate the downsides of being built by letting them be dense *and* ride higher in the water. It used to be a trade-off.
posted by dame at 2:30 PM on May 20, 2009


In fact, one of the debates about the suit is that it helps powerful athletes mitigate the downsides of being built by letting them be dense *and* ride higher in the water. It used to be a trade-off.

This is such a weird dynamic. I used to know a distance runner who would occasionally scale back on his weightlifting for fear of becoming too bulky.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:29 PM on May 20, 2009


bicycle racing has restrictions that can get pretty esoteric

heh - back when i was rowing for sport, we once had a winged keel fitted to our four.

if you know how tiny the keels are on racing shells (think: around six inches long by three inches deep) you'd realise that a couple of tiny wings couldn't do much at all; it was just for the psych factor. we even kept the keel hidden under a special cover before races. good times.
posted by UbuRoivas at 9:59 PM on May 20, 2009


This could all be solved if everyone just swam naked.

Now that's an idea I can get behind.

Also should be naked: gymnasts.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 10:40 AM on May 21, 2009


you really think so, dnab?
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:09 PM on May 21, 2009


If you think that's going to change his mind, you don't know dnab. :D
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:10 PM on May 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


i just thought i'd surprise him, because normally i would've linked this.
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:18 PM on May 21, 2009


It just seems like bits would fly around in unnatural ways.
posted by smackfu at 3:08 PM on May 21, 2009


brjevgwhewsddasfghkkeju,865,xSl
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 3:13 PM on May 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


Update: Slate covers the topic in some detail and covers much the same ground we did here.
posted by zenon at 9:17 PM on June 15, 2009


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