Giant on the move
“Fast-skin suits.” A swimsuit – or a performance enhancer?
Jonathon Newton, a Reuters account manager in Australia, has been a competitive swimmer for over 20 years. Last weekend, clad in one of Speedo’s newly released LZR racing suits that take at least 15 minutes to peel on, he came third in the 50 metre freestyle at the Australian Swimming Championships, but his time of 22.15 seconds was 0.13 seconds short of taking him to the Beijing Olympics. Newton, 27, talks about getting into his suit, how it affects his swimming and the debate around swimwear that boasts to improve times by up to 3 percent.
“You really need to wear socks or plastic bags over your feet to get the suit on as there is a kind of sticky rubber on the inside leg. If you’re even slightly wet it is impossible. They are not comfortable but you get used it. You don’t put the suit on until just before you go to the marshalling area and take it off straight after the race so it is on for maybe 30 minutes. You need two people to help with the zip on the back. They pack up very small — about the size of a bag of sugar — and people can’t believe you will fit into the suit when they see it packed.
These suits cost about A$800 each and they are only good for four or five swims at the most. I feel sorry for parents with young swimmers who grow out of them quickly. I’m grateful that when I was young we all just wore briefs.
I truly believe that there really is no difference between all the major suit makers — Speedo, Adidas, Arena, TYR– but it comes down to your personal preference and how it fits your body. I am sure that the major improvement is psychological. When swimmers shave themselves to race it is not about speed but about the way they feel in the water as it makes you feel like you are really cutting through — like a hot knife through butter. It’s the same with these suits. It makes a difference to how you feel you are moving through the water and if you’re feeling good, you make fewer mistakes.
The NCAA in America decided not to allow these suits at their championships this year because they were not available to all swimmers. (Speedo, whose suit is approved by FINA, has promised to provide about 6,000 suits to Olympic hopefuls so that everyone can have access to one as well as the Australian team which it sponsors). This really gets down to a grey area of what is a performance enhancer. The companies that make the suits say they enhance performance but when put on the spot they back down. This has become an issue in the sport and it is a complex debate. Everyone now uses these suits but can you say it cuts your time? The training methods and science of sport has improved dramatically in the last 10 years as well as the suits coming out so it is hard to know exactly how the different factors are helping us.
I missed the Olympic team by 0.13 second. My time was the 4th fastest ever by an Australian, 11th in the world so far this year, but still I did not make it. I am happy that I swam so fast but at the same time it is a bittersweet victory because it still wasn’t good enough for the Beijing team. At least I can take consolation in the fact that I am still getting faster and able to do what I love with such a busy lifestyle and whilst working at Reuters.”