Want to swim faster than a fish?
If you want to swim faster, you must reduce the drag of your body in the water. That is why competitive swimmers wear a sleek cap to reduce the drag from head hair. That’s also why they shave all their body hair.
A few years ago, chemical science provided a helping hand with the invention of the full-body swimsuit made of polyurethane, a ChlorineThing. This extremely smooth material captures tiny gas bubbles and keeps the swimmer floating higher in the water. Since swimmers have far less drag in air than in water, the higher they float the faster they can swim!
Also, the full-body suit “pushes” the water away from the swimmer through a hydrophobic force. Finally, the suits have no seams at all (seams also create drag) and they stick to the swimmer like a second skin. By the way, this is the reason why putting the suit on takes half an hour!
Similar results are obtained with neoprene suits. This synthetic rubber is a ChlorineThing too.
The combined effect of all these advantages is a spectacular increase of swimming speed. The suits were introduced in 2008 and quickly led to hundreds of new world records in swimming.
The record suit abandoned
The famous world champion Michael Phelps has won 14 Olympic gold medals wearing his 50/50 polyurethane/neoprene body suit. He broke seven world records in the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. In 2009, no less than 43 world records were set at the World Championship in Rome.
But swimmers not wearing the full-body suit complained that they were victim of a distorted competition, due to the new suits. Michael Phelps himself suggested that he might boycott all future international competitions where full-body suits were used.
And indeed, as from January 1st 2010, the international federation for swimming and other water sports, FINA, regulated the matter. Polyurethane and neoprene whole-body suits are banned worldwide during competition. The suits are now illegal and a list of approved swimsuits is published in the FINA website.