Have you noticed that every Olympic swim event is also a record smasher? It seems like every swimmer (and not just Phelps) is seconds ahead of the daunting green world record line, smashing it to smithereens. So how is all this record breaking possible?
- Tech Doping – The new Speedo LZR RACER suit, which was developed by scientists from NASA, “feels like a rocket coming off the wall,” said Phelps in a team interview. “The water just runs off the suit.” The suit has “ultrasonically welded” seams that mimics a shark skin, holds in the swimmer’s abdomen in the best position, allowing him to take in 5% more oxygen, and takes an athlete 30 minutes to get into. The suits are so powerful that US Swim Coach, Mark Schubert believed every swim record could be smashed at Beijing.
- Pool Depth – The pool in Beijing, known as the “Water Cube,” is 3 meters deep, instead of the previous depth of 2 meters. This allows swimmers to dive deeper and continue their push off “dolphin kicks” for a longer period of time. Olympic medalist and commentator Rowdy Gaines says, “It’s just deep enough to where the waves dissipate (and) the turbulence dissipates down to the bottom.”
- Pool Lanes – There are ten lanes in the Water Cube, instead of the usual eight, leaving the outside lanes open. This reduces turbulence and enables swimmers to go faster. “It’s by far the fastest pool in the world,” Gaines says.
- Practice – Sponsorship for swimming has increased, which allows athletes to avoid retirement for longer, and thus practice more. Mark Spitz, the Olympic swimmer with the most gold medals before Phelps, retired at 22 after the Munich games due to his inability to make a living as an amateur athlete. Back then, the Olympics only allowed amateur athletes to compete. Phelps, on the other hand, is now 23 has an estimated annual earnings of $5 million, and will be awarded an extra $1 million dollar bonus from Speedo if he reaches or beats Spitz’s record.
- Non-Tech Doping - Gary Hall Jr., previous Olympian 50-m freestyle champion, seems to think so. “Can suit technology distract from another issue?… I’m telling you this, I train with an international group of swimmers and all of them have stories and a few of them have had offers.” Hall likens today’s “blame it on the suit” situation to that of the ‘76 East German women’s Olympic swimming team. Though, he seems to be the only one speaking out about this so perhaps he’s just bitter he didn’t qualify for Beijing.
- “Top Secret” Technology Math Tool - Professor Timothy Wei, of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., helped develop top-secret, state-of-the-art equipment and mathematical techniques that USA Swimming coaches have been using to help to make swimmers go faster. He uses water flow diagnostic technologies to see how each swimmers’ motion affects the flow of water. Learn more from (or become more confused by) this video.