Perhaps no sport has undergone such a radical change as swimming. For years, the standard outfit for male swimmers was a sliver of fabric that became known as Speedos after the company that manufactured it. Then, about 10 years ago, new suits came out. At first, these suits covered from the waist down. These suits were supposed be more slippery than the Speedos. Times came down.
Then, full body suits came out, and times fell even more. Recently, Michael Phelps did what had been rather unthinkable. He lost. The winner bragged that his suit reduced his time by 2 seconds. Phelps's coach was furious and floated the idea that Phelps would boycott future events. FINA, the governing body of swimming, wanted to ban these full body suits.
The technology is problematic. With athletes getting paid money to sponsor products, a company may fall in the quest for the fastest suit, and it becomes more about the suit and less about the swimmer. To be fair, few complained when these suits caused record after record to fall, and only because it affects Michael Phelps are we hearing a bit of uproar.
But it goes further than that. These suits are expensive, and it is affecting the pocketbooks of would-be swimmers. Parents are having to shell out bucks to pay for their kids swimwear so they can stay competitive.
Although FINA is willing to have the suits go back to the waist-down variety, I think they should all head back to the Speedo days where the material provided only enough for modesty, and the rest was up to the swimmer. Admittedly, companies like Speedo or Arena that have benefited from these pricey suits would suffer, and they are, undoubtedly, the first to object, much as the health industry has sought to protect its own interests under the cloud of a health care reform movement.
This is undoubtedly the reason FINA did not decide to go back to the small trunks swimmers used to use because then, the competing companies would only have fashion to distinguish themselves, and would lack the profits that several hundred dollar suits have vs the sub hundred dollar swim trunks.
But then, the sport would be back to the people who swim rather than the suits they wear.
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