Suits — Not Steroids — Skew Olympic Swimming

Most swimmers competing in the Bejing Olympics this summer believe they will fail without a new $600 swimsuit, The Economist reports.

In February Speedo introduced its LZR swimsuit and 38 of the 42 world swimming records broken since then were by swimmers wearing the suit — which has no seams and takes 20 minutes to get into.

Do good swimmers just wear better bathing suits or does the suit make you a good swimmer?

The Economist opts for the latter:

Indeed, some of those records have been claimed by less-than-notable racers, suggesting that the difference lies in the apparel, not the athlete.

As does the Japan Swimming Federation, which changed its domestic sponsorship regulations so swimmers can wear LZRs. Even Nike is allowing its athletes to switch to Speedos.

TYR, another suit maker is suing Speedo’s parent company on antitrust grounds and some call the LZR “doping on a hanger,” reports The Economist.

The International Olympic Committee has already approved rival high-tech swimsuits, but — by some reports — Speedo still has the psychological edge.

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  1. oddTodd says:

    It would be trivial for FINA to regulate the swimwear that athletes wear. Many other sport federations do this. Is it in FINA’s best interest to turn swimming into a technological battle?

    On the other hand, once all swimmers have the same suit, the balance of power will be restored.

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  2. discordian says:

    I hate when a sport becomes more about the equipment than the athlete.
    Ya ask me, individual events in the olympics should be performed naked except for protective clothing.

    I’ll be a weight lifting suit that “suppoorted the muscles to help the lifter lift better” would not be allowed.
    Why is a suit that affects a swimmer’s posture OK?

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  3. dfinberg says:

    The real economics question is of course why the suits are priced so cheaply. The value of a gold medal is far far above 600 dollars, so why isn’t Reebok extracting more value from the suits?

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  4. Cronan says:

    The suits can only be pre-ordered. According to Speedo’s website they only make 30 a month. It’s likely that many swimmers who want one may not be able to get one in time.

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  5. Helen says:

    Sport should not be about the equipment.

    Swim naked. No more arguments about whether one’s suit is the reason for the medal, or one’s talent.

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  6. Neil says:

    The Washington Post has an article today about how the recent string of world-record breaking may be due, in part, to the resurgence of a move called the ‘dolphin kick.’ Apparently, Michael Phelps started using this, and it keeps swimmers underwater for a longer time (where this suit would help them best). The Post has a great graphic showing what the kick is.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/06/19/AR2008061903765.html?hpid=artslot

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  7. Ben says:

    It’s silly to ban technology from sports. Sporting equipment pushes technology boundaries in many sports. Consider what would sailing be like with wooden hulls and cotton sails or bicycling with no modern materials used in every piece of equipment and sophisticated fluid dynamics computer calculation and thousands-dollar-per-hour wind tunnel testing… We live in the age when technology is an integral part of our lives, including Olympic sports. Free market is the only solution which will drive the cost down and improve availability.

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  8. Michael F. Martin says:

    If, as the earlier commmenter suggests, it’s true that they’re only selling 30 a month, then that does look awfully bad from an Antitrust perspective.

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