Leave it to the Germans! The National Post did a story yesterday about the ever-changing technology of swimsuits in the competitive world of swimming. Last year it was Speedo's LZR-Racer which supposedly propelled Michael Phelp's record-setting swim in last year's Olympics. This year it was the Arena X-Glide worn by German Paul Bierdermann which won the gold at the world championships in Rome.
The NP article contained a brief summary about how developing technology has enabled athletes to perform better over the years. However the last two years in swimming have seen record changes, this year by a relatively unknown. The same thing happened roughly a decade ago in Major League Baseball when Mark McGuire set a home run record only to be broken the year after by Barry Bonds. Both were suspected of juicing, or using steroids.
According to the NP article:
FINA, the body that governs international swimming, has banned all non-textile suits, but not until April or May 2010. A group of scientists will, by the end of September, provide manufacturers with a definition of "textile," which is now loosely described as "material consisting of, natural and/or synthetic, individual and non-consolidated yarns used to constitute a fabric by weaving, knitting, and/or braiding."
Perhaps that's all fine and good, or it would be if there was a swimming circuit that enabled swimsuit manufacturer's the most leeway in innovative technology. NASCAR has tight restrictions on racecars, requiring every driver to use the same car with standard restrictions; yet there are other racing circuits which allow more leeway.
Byron MacDonald, former Olympic coach and swimmer:
"The one thing everybody has to realize is that these suits are not unfair," he said, since it's available to anyone who wants to spend $500 to $600. "What it messes with is history. Obviously every sport loves history," he said, drawing an analogy between the technological advances decried in swimming and calls to reset baseball records that were set by players on steroids.
"If you never compared yourself to the past history it wouldn't matter," he said. "I have swimmers now who are doing times and I know they're not as good as an athlete I coached 15 years ago, and yet they're beating the times. The purists don't like to see history disappear and history has disappeared overnight in our sport."
I suppose that I've never been overenthralled with records for the reason that so many different circumstances surround athletes when they're making history. For example an RBI man in baseball can sometimes attribute his stats to the batter preceding him and the one after him. Preceders with high on-base percentages give him more opportunities to drive in runs, while a solid hitter in the lineup right after would pressure the pitcher not to walk him. Seeing as how there are fewer variables in swimming there may be cause for alarm, but swimsuit technology is still one of many plausible variables. Others might include a new swimming technique, new diet regiment, new undetectable steroid, new supplement, etc.
Assuming the suit makes the man in this instance, this could be factored in and in no way would mitigate the achievements of athletes in times past. Those keen on history and developing trends, technological or otherwise, wouldn't necessarily conclude that the record setters were the better athletes. This is different from the MLB steroid fiasco in that it sets a bad precedent for future would be athletes. Steroids have been known to be harmful to the health of athletes and others who abuse them. The fact that so many are willing to gamble with their health, their mairrages (roid rage), and not least of which their mortality (heart problems) would seem to indicate that an additional disincentive is necessary to curtail the trend.
...but that's just my two cents.