This weekend I was around a lot of swimming people and as you would expect the hallway/water cooler conversation often gravitated to swim suits and their impact so far, their likely impact on the Rome World Championships and the lasting effect on our sport.
The way I see it, prior to this quantum leap in suit technology, competitive swimming existed as a free market where superior products succeeded because of the elements that were put into them. The swimmer who was best prepared mentally, physically and technically would finish victorious just as the free market believes the best designed and priced product will sell the most.
Recently though an outside influence has altered the marketplace for “swimming success”. Where once a swimmer’s endurance, core strength and flotation were earned through countless hours of dedication and hard work, technology has now supplanted those efforts. No longer are the tedious hours focusing on those elements mandatory as essentially a floor has been put in place creating a new level of equality between the haves and the have nots. In 2000 Pieter van den Hoogenband swam an amazing 47.84 to win Gold in the 100 Freestyle and from that day in Sydney until last year no one could surpass the effort. In 2008, with the new suits in use, swimmers from France, Australia, Canada, the US and Brazil all swam faster than Pieter... Sounds like socialism to me.
Sure one could say that this just means that coaches and athletes must now find other ways to differentiate themselves from their competition under this new reality. True enough, but the players didn’t get a chance to do that in Beijing and with suits still not locked in for Rome it is unlikely they will in time for World Championships either.
Last week I read a FB update from a very well known older swimmer, the update was thanking a particular suit manufacturer for helping old folks like him swim fast…
I don’t think it matters what level of competition we are talking about because if the suit is making the swimmer fast… then the suit is “fast” not the swimmer. Why are we so pleased with ourselves for accomplishments not of ourselves?
To revert back to my super hero theme brought up in a previous blog, I've got to think that the Batman would be pretty peeved if Ironman suits became available to the masses. All the hard work he had put in to be nimble and tough would be surpassed by some technology that gives everyone abilities that he had worked for and they did not earn. Again I will acknowledge that in time the hardest workers and the most industrious coaches will find the greatest success. Just like Batman could buy an Ironman suit and figure out how to use it better than I could, Bowman, Perisol, Hutchison and Soni will all find ways to stay at the top of the sport of swimming.
That said, it’s a shame that the great swimmers of this era were attacked by a Mouchian change to the sport. Our athletes and coaches deserved better than we gave them in 2008 and it looks like we will give them in 2009, so I hope that at the FINA Congress in Rome this summer the World will recognize our past mistakes and make a statement by voting for laissez-faire competition to once again return to swimming.
*I acknowledge my hypocrisy that by supporting a “free market” for swimming competition, I dismiss one in suit manufacturing. I’m okay with that fact.