By Phillip Whitten
It was the loudest buzz before the Olympic Games in Sydney last September. The new bodysuit, by swimsuit manufacturers such as Speedo and adidas, would allow swimmers to reduce drag, making them faster. World records would tumble, the manufacturers predicted.
Purists were outraged, pointing out that the rules of swimming's international governing body, FINA, expressly prohibit the use of flotation or other performance-enhancing devices.
The records did, indeed, tumble. But the controversy may have been much ado about nothing, a tempest in a 50-meter teapot. A study by a Dutch scientist indicates the new-fangled suits may not have had anything to do with the orgy of record-breaking in Sydney.
A study by Dr. Huub Toussaint and his colleagues at the Faculty of Human Movement Sciences at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam has concluded that there is no significant difference in drag between swimmers wearing the Speedo "Fastskin" swim suit and those wearing a conventional swim suit. The study, which cwill appear in the next issue of the British journal, Sport Biomechanics, supports the conclusion of a statistical analysis by Dr. Joel Stager of Indiana University.
Speedo has claimed that the Fastskin will reduce the drag encountered during swimming, and estimated the effect to be in the order of 7.5%. "The results of the present test do not support the claims of Speedo," Toussaint said.
In the experiment, conducted at the indoor pool Sportfondsenbad Amersfoort, 13 international-caliber Dutch swimmers were asked to swim at top speed wearing the Fastskin and conventional swimwear. The experimenters measured the active drag created by the swimmers wearing first one suit, then the other. The result: There was no statistically significant difference.