London 2012 Olympics: Fluid Technology for Swimming

With the London 2012 Olympics just around the corner, I thought it would be interesting to review the application of fluid technology to various Olympic sports, starting with swimming.

Men's 200m Freestyle Final - World's Swimming Championship Shanghai 2011No more supersuits

In the run up to the London Olympics the big news in swimming is the lack of fluid technology.

The introduction of the Speedo LZR Racer swimsuit just prior to the Beijing 2008 Olympics resulted in virtually every swimming world record being broken by the end of 2008. The sport initially seemed to embrace the idea of technology doping through the sanctioning of ever more optimized swimsuits. The 2009 FINA World Swimming Championships saw another rush of world record breaking which was increasingly being attributed to the advances in swimsuit design, rather than the prowess of the swimmers.

The full body swimsuits optimized various aspects of the swimming process. By better shaping of the body through compression, the swimsuits reduced the pressure drag. Using textured surfaces (like shark skin), the swimsuits reduced viscous drag. By trapping air the swimsuits increased the buoyancy of a swimmer, thus letting the swimmer focus more effort on horizontal propulsion.

In recognition of the fact that the swimsuit technology was drawing a disproportionate amount of attention away from the swimmers, FINA introduced new rules in 2010, effectively ending the swimsuit arms race:

"BL 8.3 From January 1, 2010 swimwear for men shall not extend above the navel nor below the knee, and for women, shall not cover the neck, extend past the shoulder, nor shall extend below knee. All swimsuits shall be made from textile materials."

This was a bold move by FINA when you consider the investment the swimsuit companies had made in the design and manufacture of the enhanced supersuits, and the high level of sponsorship the same companies provide for swimmers and events.