Chlorine Chronicle (Archive)NMSC Apr/00 Newsletter
Less skin, More speed
Speedo's claims: "less skin, more speed" ( Foster Smith National Post)
If slipping on a slinky Speedo has turned you off competitive swimming, the maker of the classic briefs believes it has a solution. The Fastskin, Speedo's futuristic answer to the full-body suits of its competitors is indebted to the shark, whose hydrodynamic skin served as the inspiration for the swimwear brand's latest effort to help trim milliseconds off a swimmer's time. Covering the body from the wrists to the ankles, the Fastskin is made from a specially designed fabric replete with tiny V-shaped, hydrofoil-like ridges that mimic what are known as the dermal denticles of a shark's skin. These ridges help direct the flow of water over the body and thereby cut down on drag, allowing the bulkiest of sharks to glide through the water. The Fastskin, which is made from a Lycra/polyester fabric, also literally fits like a skin. Stu Isaac, Speedo's vice-president of team sales and sports marketing, said the seams of the new suit flow with the body's tendons and the panels of fabric wrap around the muscles, compressing them and reducing unnecessary energy loss. Though the Fastskin, which is being officially unveiled at the 5th Annual FINA World Swimming Championships in Athens, Greece, has yet to appear in competition, Mr. Isaac said time trials and practice sessions with the suit have proven it allows swimmers to break out earlier and get further on their push off from the wall. Its introduction into the sport, however, has been controversial. Last summer, Don Talbot, the Australian swim team's coach, whose top swimmers were among those putting the Fastskin through its trial paces, told his athletes not to wear the suits because he believed FINA, the international swimming authority, would oppose the full-body outfits. Some critics have said they give swimmers an unfair advantage. FINA, however, approved their use last November on the grounds they are made available to competitors from all countries -- not just those who can afford the Fastskin's $150 price tag. Mr. Isaac said Speedo hopes the full-body suits will attract new swimmers and make the sport appear "cool" because of the technology. Until now, he said, competitive swimming has been hampered by the fact few young boys in North America want to wear the traditional Speedo racing brief.