Swimmer…or Technology: Part II, or That’s Using His Cap

By Phillip Whitten

LONG BEACH, Calif., July 19. IN an article we posted on July 8, we asked the question: How much do swimsuits really matter?

Do the new hi-tech body suits really make a difference? we queried.

And we answered: “Not very much,” and “probably not much.”

As if to emphasize the point, several highly seeded swimmers showed up at the blocks seemingly wearing the grungiest suits they could find – traditional racing suits, beat-up old stretched-out, see-through workout suits, bodysuits with holes in them. And most of them chose not to wear any cap at all.

Aaron Peirsol and Lenny Krayzelburg made particular points of their nonchalance about new-fangled hi-technology.

Until the finals.

Then it all changed, as swimmers sought every legal advantage permitted under FINA rules.

Lenny chose to wear a prototype of the newly approved “Fast Cap,” a helmet-like jobbie that, some say, makes the wearer look like a Roman legionnaire. Others say, more like a medieval peasant

The cap is the invention of former ASU head coach, Ron Johnson, and has been eight years in the making. Engineered by Aerotek, an aerospace company located in Bellingham, Washington, the cap is designed to conform to the exact shape of the head, thus eliminating drag created by traditional caps.

The cap was recently approved for use in competition by FINA.

The texture of the cap is not smooth, but slightly textured, allowing it to slough off water more effectively than a smooth surface can The idea is similar to having dimples on golf balls; it allows the ball (or cap) to move more effectively through its medium – air, in the case of the golf ball; water, in the case of the Fast Cap.

Tests have proved the cap does, in fact, reduce resistance and help swimmers swim faster.

Speedo, which has given out prototypes of the new cap to its contracted swimmers, including Lenny, reportedly is in the process of working out a license agreement with Coach Johnson and Aerotek to sell the caps.

Back to Lenny……

In prelims and semis, Lenny wore a regular workout suit and no cap, but he knew he’d have to go much faster to make the US Olympic team in the deepest event at the Trials – and the fastest 100-meter backstroke field in history.

What happened next is history. World champion Aaron Peirsol won the race in 53.64 second, just off the world record. Lunging for the wall, Lenny got his hand there next, in 54.06 seconds.

“It was the cap,” he said afterwards. “If it hadn’t been for the cap I wouldn’t be on the Olympic team.”

Sometimes, new-fangled technology pays off. Sometimes it pays to have the fastest head – oops, make that “cap” — in the pool.

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