Faster Pools, Slower Suits In Olympic Swimming

Download Audio
Swimming is one of the Summer Olympics's most popular sports, but changes have come to both the suits swimmers wear and the pools they swim in. (AP)
Swimming is one of the most popular sports in the Summer Olympics, but changes have come to both the suits swimmers wear and the pools where they swim. (AP)

The LZR, the full-length polyurethane bodysuit that Michael Phelps wore for seven of his eight gold medal-winning events in Beijing is no more. It's been banned.

And since 98 percent of the swimmers winning medals and setting records at the 2008 Olympic Games were wearing the LZR, one might expect that Olympic times will be slower this summer. But, one might be wrong.

Sharon Begley, the senior health and science correspondent at Reuters, spoke to Bill Littlefield about how the attire — and the pools — will be different in London.

In 2009, FINA, swimming's international federation, declared that swimsuits must be air permeable, could not cover more than navel to kneecap for men, shoulder to kneecap for women, and could not include a zipper.

"The suits that they banned had the property of being virtually impermeable to water," Begley said, adding that the suits helped swimmers be more buoyant in the water.

Before the invention of the LZR, Speedo was producing a suit based on the skin of sharks. Unfortunately, some scientists at Harvard proved that design to be less efficient than advertised.

"The researchers took the fabric that Speedo had come up with...and it turned out that it was not faster," Begley said. "In fact, it worked better inside-out."

Meanwhile, the other key swimming technology is the pool itself. The competition pool at London's Aquatics Centre has been described as "one of the most technologically advanced pools ever built."

"The idea here is something called 'fast water,'" Begley said. "You want as few waves on the surface of the pool as possible. You also want fewer currents bouncing off the bottom of the pool. Turbulence is the enemy of speed...This is all great on paper, but we'll see how it translates into actual times."

This segment aired on July 21, 2012.


More from Only A Game

Listen Live