Blog: Leonie BarrieDoes technology deserve a sporting chance?

Leonie Barrie | 26 March 2008

Speedo’s slick new swimsuits are causing a bit of a splash in the swimming fraternity – and not just because of their revolutionary design. The LZR Racer, launched last month, has been deemed the “world's fastest” suit, but it now seems its ability to break world records is causing concern at the sport's governing body.

FINA (the Fédération Internationale de Natation) approved the $550 suit, which is made from a new, ultra-lightweight fabric and is ultrasonically welded together with panels to compress the swimmer's body into a more streamlined shape.

But it now wants to discuss the thickness of the material used and its potential buoyancy issues after 12 world records were broken since mid-February.

The increasing use of suits like this has opened the debate on the uptake of technology in sporting competitions.

Ahead of the Olympic Games in Beijing this summer, it won’t just be Speedo that launches a new swimsuit – all the major manufacturers will. And similarly groundbreaking products that make runners, cyclists and speed skaters faster through advanced materials and aerodynamic considerations are sure to be unveiled too.

The Olympic Games is obviously a natural platform to showcase the latest developments in hi-tech sportswear, but the question now seems to be how far can technological advances be made without actually giving athletes ‘unfair’ advantages?

After all, if contestants can’t compete on a level playing field, then the whole ethos of sporting events like the Olympics is undermined, and making it onto the winner’s podium depends not so much on the ability of the individual athlete, but more on whether or not he or she can get hold of the best piece of kit.

Of course there has always been a progression in materials and equipment – it’s not that long ago that Lycra was seen as revolutionary. And with a split-second now making the difference between a Gold medal and no medal, perhaps it’s not surprising the race to be first shows no sign of slowing down.

Is Speedo swimsuit a bit too slick?


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