Swimming: Second wave seek a fitting stage

Suit technology has been reined in but British Swimming Championships could see a rush of new records

It was a little over four years ago, the day before Valentine's Day 2008, that swimming was revolutionised. Speedo made grand claims when it launched its new suit, the LZR Racer, that encased swimmers from head to toe in what resembled a seal skin. There were boasts of Nasa technology and a calculable improvement in performance.

It took a month for big words to become big deeds. By the end of February, 15 long-course world records were gone. By the end of 2008 the total was 108 – 79 of them went to those, like Rebecca Adlington and Michael Phelps, who were clothed in the LZR. Speedo and its swimmers had pressed the fast-forward button.

At the Beijing Olympics, swimmers shoe-horned into the LZR won 94 per cent of the gold medals; 23 of 25 world records went the same way. Other manufacturers followed suit, the X-Glide and the Jaked 01 added to the record rush and in 2009, times plummeted. As Ellen Gandy, a world silver medallist, wrote in a recent blog, if someone broke a record the reaction was "just like 'oh, yeah'".

In the first five days of the 2009 world championships in Rome, 29 new records were set. Germany's Britta Steffen said she felt like a "speed boat" after smashing the 100 metres freestyle mark. But there was growing disquiet among swimmers and officials as the boundaries were pushed further and further. Therese Alshammar had a record scrubbed for wearing two suits – air is trapped between them and so increases buoyancy. The LZR was designed with 50 per cent polyurethane – others had 100 per cent. The effect is to compress muscle and, basically, alter body shape.

"People were taking it to the nth degree and wearing two or three suits to try and get more of an advantage," says Scott Drawer, head of research and innovation at UK Sport, the body who oversee elite performance in this country.

Fina, swimming's governing body, banned the suits in 2010, when only two pre-2008 world records remained on the books. Since then time has stood still – just two new records have been set. But that does not mean those behind the scenes have stopped looking for ways to get their men and women in the pool to go faster.

At this year's Games the suits will be more recognisable as those worn at the local leisure centre. Manufacturers have to submit suits to Fina 12 months in advance of a Games and non-textile materials like polyurethane, which are in effect performance enhancing, are banned. Arena will launch its new suit, worn by Fran Halsall, tomorrow and Speedo has produced the Fastskin3, a suit, hat and goggles combination that the company says reduces underwater drag by 16 per cent.

Bob Bowman, Phelps's coach, helped to design the system. He said: "In a sport where gold medals are decided by hundredths of a second, that's a huge advantage." The suit's effectiveness will become clearer this month as the British trials, which started yesterday and run in London to 10 March, are followed by the Australian ones.

"Speedo has worked hard to improve its hat and goggle set up," says Drawer."Their evidence suggests it is better than just wearing a standard suit."

Drawer has gone down a different route in the search of those fractions of a second. A tow rig designed at the University of Southampton, which specialises in ships, is being used to help refine the technique of British swimmers. Sensors are attached to the athlete and the data produced shows where drag is highest.

"We try to understand why people went much faster in suits and try to find ways of getting that back," says Drawer. "When they swim you can calculate their drag – how much they are resistant to water – and through that information you can help refine techniques. It's an ongoing process. We've got the tool kit to help people understand the effect of technique on their drag. But it's not like you go in the pool one day and work it out, it's about testing and then repeating, lots of testing, lots of coaching, lots of practice."

At last year's world championships in Shanghai there were the first signs that the pause button had been released. Ryan Lochte broke the 200m individual medley world record and then Sun Yang did likewise in the 1500m free. Will London see a new assault on the record books?

"Eventually all those records will go," says Bill Furniss, Adlington's coach. "It will be more difficult in the power events because the suits helped there. But nothing stands still."

The London pool has features that assist quick times – it is uniformly 3m deep and it has extra lanes to absorb the wash and a flat trough on each side.

"We will have a better idea by the end of the week," said Michael Scott, the performance director of British swimming.

Olympic trials

Five swimmers booked their places on Britain's Olympic team last night after the first day of competition at the Aquatics Centre.

Hannah Miley swam her fastest 400m individual medley in a textile suit and was joined on the squad by Aimee Willmott, whose father Stuart competed in the same event at the 1984 Olympics. Roberto Pavoni and Joe Roebuck filled the two slots in the men's equivalent and Robbie Renwick qualified in the 400m freestyle.

Miley recorded a time of 4min 32.67sec, which only she has bettered domestically. "I wasn't really expecting that time," she said. "I am really chuffed with how it went, it felt great. The crowd and the atmosphere was electric so it is going to be really exciting how it is going to be at the Olympic Games."

Willmott failed to make the team for the World Championships in Shanghai last year after being disqualified in the first trials in Manchester before her Psychology A Level clashed with the second stage in Sheffield. But she set a personal best of 4:37.48. Keri-Anne Payne was fifth, and the world open water champion will now be looking to qualify in the 800m freestyle.

In the men's equivalent Pavoni set a personal best of 4:12.43, 2.05sec ahead of Roebuck with both well within the qualifying time. Pavoni's success meant the first victory at the venue was by a local swimmer; he lives 20 minutes away in Brentwood, Essex. "It's unbelievable," he said. "I live just 20 minutes down the road. I might even stay at home for the Games."

Renwick also booked his spot in the 400m freestyle with 3:46.73 but David Carry's 3:48.36 was 0.23sec outside the time required and he will have to try again in Sheffield in June.

Liz Byrnes

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Reach Volunteering: Financial Trustee and Company Secretary

Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: A trustee (company d...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager

£45000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Shopfitter

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a successful an...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Sales Account Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Digital Sales Account Manager...

Day In a Page

Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

Look what's mushrooming now!

Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

Oeuf quake

Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

Terry Venables column

Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin