Sadly, Michael Phelps is going to have to break records without the help of his high tech secret weapon. And no, I’m not talking about the new anti-gravity bong that he bought while stopping off in Amsterdam on his way to the FINA World Championships in Rome.
FINA, the professional swimming world’s governing organization, has decided that starting January 1, 2010, polyurethane swimsuits will be outlawed. This comes as the result of a record breaking year of, well, record breaking. In the last 17 months, polyurethane suits like Michael Phelps’ suit of choice — the Speedo LZR Racer — have assisted in the demise of over 135 world records.
Many swimmers are excited about taking the sport back to suits past, such as Dara Torres who says that, “It will be great when they go back (to the old rules) and they find out who the real swimmers are. A lot of the athletes in the back were saying this is crazy, that this is the last time it is going to happen.”
As a former competitive swimmer in summer recreational leagues and a member of my high school’s varsity swim team, I can relate to what Torres is saying. The night before a big meet, the whole swim team would throw a carbo load/shave down party where we ate as much pasta as possible and helped assist the boys in shaving their legs. We all had race suits, but they were the standard nylon non-scale fabric Speedo suits. And the shaving down part was widely understood to be more of a mental pump-up tool used by our coaches to help the team get excited – shave off all that extra hair to help shave off tiny milliseconds off of our races. If you mentally felt like you’d be faster, chances are regardless of how much hair you shaved off, you would be faster.
The Speedo LZR Racer and other polyurethane suits seem to me to be more of a mental racing tool. Yes, many of the swimmers wearing the suits have broken a lot of records. But could it be that swimming as a sport has improved in training and stroke technique too? There’s more technological advancement that’s involved in swimming beyond just what suit swimmers are wearing. Every year coaches and trainers are able to tweak small parts of how these professional athletes swim and discover new ways to make their races more efficient. Even if it’s not making seconds of differences, it can help break records. The sport has also been attracting more and more naturally gifted athletes. Not all athletes are turning to soccer, football, baseball and basketball. Many athletes are sticking with swimming and with Michael Phelps as the lead recruiter for swimming stoners all over the world, those world records are going to be continued to be broken whether FINA likes it or not.
To me, the suit has taken over the focus of the sport. There was a fashion show at the Beijing Olympics and the US team was shown off in their suits as if they were wearing the equivalent of a futuristic space age suit. Suits have always been sexy and an interesting part of swimming, but I cant get behind the fact that they are the sole reason aiding these swimmers in a significant way. And Access Hollywood, is it really necessary for you to stand by the side of the pool asking swimmers what suit they are wearing for this race? It’s not the Oscars!
I hope that the banning of these suits does not kill the momentum that swimming has gained since Michael Phelps’ amazing performance in the Beijing Olympics. It’s been fun and exciting and I want more Michael Phelps-like moments to happen at the next summer games. I hope swimmers can move past the mental aspect and they can still swim fast without these suits. As Clarifornia said on facebook, swimming is going back to skins. Going back to skins means it’s time to shave again. And yes, US Men’s team, Clarifornia and I are more than happy to help you out with that.