Role of Technology in Swimming: The Good and Bad


Role of Technology in Swimming: The Good and Bad

By Josie Wise, Swimming World Intern

Touchpads, meet management software, heart rate monitoring, underwater cameras… all are technological advancements that have been brought to swimming. As with anything in the world, swimming has not remained a stagnant sport in terms of how it operates. It seems like every year, there’s a new piece of equipment to be bought or a new gadget to install in your pool area. Some, if not most, of these advancements have made huge impacts on the sport. We tend to go through life without noticing them, but what if we stopped to consider the role technology plays in swimming? 


There are volunteers behind the blocks at almost every swim meet with two backup stopwatches ready to go in case the touchpads are faulty. A common game that these timers like to play to pass the time at long meets is seeing which watch can get closest to the touchpad’s time. What the timers are doing in these cases is exemplifying the main purpose of touchpads: the elimination of human error.

Touchpads were a revolutionary addition to swimming. It’s very difficult to imagine what swimming would be like without them. Timing would be a nightmare, with constant disputes over biased timers or incorrect numbers. Records wouldn’t be measured to the hundredth of a second, at least not with complete accuracy. Olympic medals would be constant controversies. Look at the famous race between Michael Phelps and Milorad Cavic in the 100 butterfly at the 2008 Olympics. Chaos would have ensued if that finish had been determined by the average of a few stopwatches.

Training Equipment

In races, a swimmer has nothing but their training to boost them through the water. However, in practice, it’s a different story. Equipment like paddles, fins, snorkels, kickboards, and pull buoys are the big five, the originals, the backbone of training equipment. As we learn more about the science behind swimming, new equipment gets added to that list. Tempo trainers, parachutes, resistance bands, and power racks are examples of slightly more uncommon items that assist swimmers in training.

Even though these aren’t all exciting electronic advancements, this equipment comes from new research and information on how to make us go faster and falls into the category of technology. At one point, goggles were a technology that swimmers didn’t even use in competitive swimming until the 1970s.

Is All This New Technology Good?

On the other side of the technology world, we have advancements that don’t turn out to be a good thing. One instance of this could be performance-enhancing drugs. Forms of doping have been around since as early as the times of the Ancient Greeks. As science progressed, so did the information on how to artificially enhance sports performance, which led to an unfortunate rise in usage.

Another troublesome technology upgrade came in the form of the super-suit, also nicknamed technological doping. These competition suits were designed in collaboration with NASA and led to a staggering amount of world records being broken in 2009 and 2010. Because these records had a direct correlation to the suits, regulations had to be established, and these suits were ultimately banned.

Most of the time, we can positively impact our swimming performance and experience with technology. However, there are cases where we take it a little too far. In these cases, we need to monitor what is allowed and draw the line when unjust advantages are at stake.

All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.

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