Making a Splash

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Making a Splash

Post  tzuhui on Sun Jul 27, 2008 9:24 pm

Making a Splash

Speedo's new and controversial high-tech LZR suit is helping swimmers smash dozens of records. How the company plans to capitalize on Olympic gold.
Keith Naughton
NEWSWEEK
Updated: 3:15 PM ET Jun 20, 2008

Michael Phelps steps onto the blocks of a large indoor pool in Omaha. He's about to swim the 100-meter butterfly at an Olympic tune-up meet this month. He bends into his starting position, flaps his arms across his back and launches at the sound of the horn. In the first lap, he's only in second as he makes his flip turn. But with 25 meters to go, he turns it on and the crowd roars. In a few soaring strokes, he's two body lengths ahead and pulls away. He touches the wall in 51.04 seconds—the fastest in the world this year in the event. Backstage, reporters swarm Phelps. But instead of asking about his amazing finish, they pepper America's swim king with questions about the high-tech Speedo swimsuit he's wearing. "I don't usually get questions about my suit," he said. "It's kind of funny."

Don't laugh. Phelps's quest to top Mark Spitz's seven gold medals is only the second biggest swim story in the run-up to the Olympics. Speedo's LZR Racer swimsuit is causing the biggest splash in and out of the pool. The rubbery full-body corset would look more at home in a Batman movie than on the pool deck. But since it was introduced in February, swimmers wearing it have set a stunning 38 world records. Rivals' suits have set just three world records during that time, which has them crying foul (while scrambling to come up with their own sci-fi suits). The coach of the Italian team calls the LZR Racer "technological doping." The second largest U.S. swimwear maker, TYR, filed a federal lawsuit in California, alleging anticompetitive practices, against Speedo's parent company, the coach of the U.S. swim team and even a TYR endorser, Olympic medalist Erik Vendt, who switched to the Speedo. A Japanese swimmer under contract to Mizuno just set a world record in a LZR (pronounced laser), which he'll wear in Beijing. Swimming's governing body, FINA, approved the LZR for the Olympics, but controversy still swirls, which is fine by Speedo. "It's very nice to have your competitors recognize they're at a disadvantage," says Speedo's marketing chief Stu Isaac. "They're doing our marketing for us."

And Speedo will take the help. Despite its dominance in the pool, Speedo is not that big a fish. It does just $250 million in annual U.S. sales and about $555 million worldwide, say officials at Warnaco, its U.S. parent. With those relatively modest revenues, Speedo certainly can't afford to advertise on TV for the Olympics. But Speedo's athletic performance has made it the No. 1 swim brand in the world. In the United States, where it faces fierce competition from Nike and TYR, Speedo commands 61 percent of the competitive-swimwear market, according to sports-marketing researcher SportsOneSource. "Speedo is the Kleenex of swimwear," says analyst Marshal Cohen of the NPD Group. "But not since the advent of steroids have we seen so many record-smashing events."

This week at the U.S. Olympic trials in Omaha, even more world records could fall. And come August in Beijing, says U.S. swim coach Mark Schubert, "every world record is in jeopardy. The suit is definitely a factor." Throughout most of the modern Olympic era, Speedo has been leaving rivals in its wake. Founded in Australia 80 years ago (that's the origin of the boomerang logo), Speedo won its first Olympic gold medal at the 1932 Games in Los Angeles. During the 1956 Olympics, the Australian team debuted that barely-there brief that remains Speedo's signature look, and it swept the golds.

Spitz wore iconic red, white and blue Speedos when he won his record-setting seven golds in Munich in 1972. At the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Speedo debuted its full-body Fastskin suits that covered swimmers in fabric patterned on sharkskin, which Phelps wore four years later in Athens while winning eight medals. He says the LZR, with its water-repellent fabric and slick polyurethane panels, makes him feel like "a rocket," which is apt since NASA helped engineer it.

But there aren't enough Olympians to keep a swimwear company afloat. Speedo uses them, though, as show horses. It says it spent "tens of millions" developing the LZR Racer over the last four years, knowing it would never directly recover those costs. After all, the LZR is priced from $290 for men's jammers (think bicycle shorts) to $550 for the full bodysuit. The idea is that the 300,000 kids on swim teams—and everyday sunbathers—will want a piece of Phelps glory. Speedo will be ready with replica suits with the same flowing stars-and-stripes motif, but for $40-$78. "LZR Racer is a pretty small part of our business, under 5 percent," says Warnaco Group president Helen McCluskey. "But it's what gives us credibility. It's the couture version of Speedo."

Its creation began after the closing ceremonies in Athens. At the time, some experts suggested that the sharkskin design on Speedo's Fastskin suit was little more than a gimmick. After all, Spitz swam into history in tiny Speedos, without even a swim cap. A prominent doubter was Iowa State physiology professor Rick Sharp, a former collegiate swimmer, who wrote two papers questioning Speedo's performance claims. But rather than taking offense, Speedo was intrigued. "He was asking all the right questions," says Jason Rance, chief of Speedo's Aqualab global R&D center in England. So Rance called Sharp in 2004 to ask him to lead a team of outside experts to help build a better suit. "I laughed and said, 'Have you read my papers?' " recalls Sharp.

Speedo also enlisted NASA to do tests on drag-reducing fabrics. "We're just a bunch of nerds who don't swim," says NASA fluid-mechanics engineer Stephen Wilkinson. "This was new to us." In wind tunnels used to detect surface friction on spacecraft re-entering Earth's atmosphere, he tested scores of swimsuit swatches by blowing air across them at 63 miles per hour to simulate a swimmer as fast as Phelps. He found the fastest fabrics were coated with polyurethane, a slick, rubbery substance that slices through the water with less resistance than uncoated fabrics.

Speedo then began stitching together samples that Sharp tried out on Iowa State swimmers. Not everything went as planned. "We had one suit that looked great on paper," he says. "But then when we dove into the pool, it ballooned out like a parachute." The polyurethane panels, which act like a girdle to streamline swimmers, also proved problematic. "At first we put that girdle structure way up onto the rib cage," says Sharp. "But then we realized it restricted a swimmer's breathing."

It also wasn't so easy to wear. To prevent rips, Olympian Dara Torres found she had to "sit on the floor and inch it on like panty hose." Phelps's drawstring broke just before a race in May. Rattled, he quickly slipped into an old Speedo and promptly swam seven seconds slower than his world record in the 400-meter individual medley. His coach Bob Bowman says putting Phelps into a larger LZR solved the problem.

But despite the hype, there's one swimmer who's yet to set a record in a LZR: Michael Phelps. "The swimmer makes the suit, not the other way around," says Bowman. For Speedo, that means its success is not just riding on its high-tech Superman suit. It's also riding on the swimming superman wearing it.

URL: http://www.newsweek.com/id/142410

© 2008
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tzuhui

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Post  tzuhui on Sun Jul 27, 2008 9:27 pm

Some comments by other members, to get you thinking Smile

Member Comments:

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Posted By: Old Lou @ 07/25/2008 11:08:11 AM

Comment: To make it fair, athletes should compete naked. Like in the good old days..
o
Posted By: ghostmasseur @ 07/25/2008 16:23:43

Comment: I second that idea.

Only use what was used in ancient Greece.

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Posted By: ymorgan @ 07/24/2008 5:34:07 PM

Comment: A technical note from the first paragraph, you don't do a flip turn in 100m butterfly...not a big deal to non-swimmers I'm sure, but any 10 yr. old competetive swimmer would know, so the editor might want to correct that. (P.S. In butterfly and breast, swimmers use open turns.)

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Posted By: fast phil @ 07/22/2008 5:52:09 PM

Comment: Modification of the suits should not be permitted as all prior records have been established without
this advantage. How can the athletes compare their times against all other records to guage them-
selves ? In 2012 if it is proven that having flubber on the heels of your shoes will make you jump higher
think what it will do for the longjump records .
o
Posted By: ghostmasseur @ 07/25/2008 10:18:42

Comment: fast phil,

Since many of the records were set before the advent of newer training methods maybe those shoudl be bannned too. Sorry but your arguement is flawed. The suits worn in the 1970's were different than those in the 1950's. As technology changes, new records are set and the sport advances.

There have been advances in the shoes that runners wear. Should all runners be required to run barefoot?

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Posted By: pilbi @ 07/21/2008 7:07:16 AM

Comment: The point is not wheather or not the suit is going to make anyone wearing it to be the fastest, but that it gives people wearing it an advantage against others with nothing more but their -natural- skin.
Should it be legal that the water slipping across your body runs faster because you wear a space-era suit? that is the question we gotta answer.

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Posted By: tarkay1 @ 07/20/2008 6:15:40 PM

Comment: After reading many post on here, it has become clear to me, that if so many are worried about it being a so enhancing and cheating, then I would guess that the gold, silver and bronze medal winners will all be wearing these suits. Furthermore has any of his teammates that also wear the suits been able to beat him ? I have to agree that it is not the suit that makes the athlete it is the person that makes the athlete.
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Review

Post  tzuhui on Sun Jul 27, 2008 9:31 pm

This interesting new swimsuit seems to be creating a monopoly for Speedo. As a leading brand in swim wear, Speedo has successfully used LZR to bring swim wear to a whole new level. This creation's influence to the swimming industry is akin to Microsoft's impact on the world. Economically, this is actually desirable. With the bar raised, competitors would have to work harder and more efficiently to bring better goods to the market, consumers enjoy better quality of goods with firms all trying to be cheaper and better than each other, this would bring the economy up pushing the companies to produce better goods for us. Thus, this creation is indeed remarkable and good news for the world.
On the other hand, with LZR, cheating comes inevitably to mind. LZR undeniably gives its users an advantage over its non-users, and in formal events like the Olympic Games, it becomes exceptionally critical to draw the fine line between acceptable or not. Swimsuit can be classified as an equipment; it is like a badminton or tennis racquet. As with these racquets, different swimsuits may give competitors an edge. With badminton racquets, titanium ones are lighter and gives its user a more precise control over his or her swing. This would aid the competitors greatly in any game. However, there racquets are not banned from the Olympic Games, why then should the LZR? After all. as Mark Twain once said, "Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society." We won't really want our Olympic Games to 'have little or no influence on society' do we?


Last edited by tzuhui on Sun Aug 03, 2008 9:40 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Re: Making a Splash

Post  izzy on Sat Aug 02, 2008 3:16 am

BOO-YAH! tongue

Firstly, I am now strongly aware that in the midst of certain problems encountered in the usage modern technology, there are actually some plus points in which we should consider. In other words, the problems arising from the usage of modern technology provide us with the neccessity as well as inspirations to find possible solutions to tackle the problems.

The creation of Speedo, a high-tech swimming costume, has brought changes not only to its consmers but also to the researchers. Well you may ask why must the swimming costume be customised to have funtions(R&D) that enable the consumers to swim at a fast rate, right? The main purpose is of course to open-up a successful company which are able to induce better services and businesses. Furthermore, so far, how many companies have came up with this creativity to invent such product? By doing so, the company is able to compete well with the other labelled companies which produce the swimming costumes of different quality. The demand of the consumers can still be met.

More interestingly, everytime when new products are formed, celebrities or sports stars are always the ones who promote them. I found it rather amusing and cliche' . Why can't it be any normal ordinary people?Why must it be some stars or people who have high-profile and are popular? That is why many companies are wise in selling their products. The reason is attraction to the consumers. Many companies understand this psycholigcal belief of people that they will only buy a certain product if they found them "interesting" , even there is not a need to. Therefore, it is crucial for the companies to advertise their products to the masses efficiently. If not, it is very likely that they will not progress and bloom their production.

I find that the cretion of Speedo is very unfair. The sportsmen from developing countries will not have the privileged to wear them when they compete at international level. Speedo is very costly and the country may not able to suppot the sportmen with such equipment. Hence, only the sportmen from the the developed nations are able to benefit from the competition by wearing Speedo. However, wearing Speedo does not guarantee that a sportsman will definitely win in the competition.

So what do yuo guys think? Is it necessary to invent Speedo. I don't think so. A competition has to be played fair and square. If one wears Speedo, every competitors should wear Speedo then.


PS I think that there's a lot of grammatical and expression errors. Im too sleepy to care right now. Sorry guys.
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Re: Making a Splash

Post  Jonathan on Sat Aug 02, 2008 3:53 pm

Did you know that the Speedo LZR(lazer) Racer costs a whopping US$550?

This is a very interesting an exciting innovation for the sports world. I belief that it is alright to allow this suit in the competitions because as techonlogy advances, man's capablilities will definetly widen. Some people call this techonological doping but if everybody uses one of these, wouldn't the competition be fair? And since the suit has proven to be so effective, any competitor would not want to be handicapped be not wearing this swimsuit. If you had seen the olympic trials, you would have witnessed that all of the swimmers were wearing the exact same suit. The Speedo LZR Racer.

Also if we look at some other sports such as cycling and table tennis, these atheletes make use of far more gear than those in the water. Cyclist have their own suits and bikes which have from the past seen vast improvements and developments. New carbon fibre frames on their bycycles coupled with a tightfitting body suit allows the cyclist to reach speeds unreachable ever before. Table Tennis players have had their bats engineered to optimum performance and have had their shoes designed speacially for the sport. Why than is there so much controversy about this suit?

At the end of the day it is the swimmer and his/her abilities not suit that breaks world records.
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Re: Making a Splash

Post  ~*~ Amirah ~*~ on Sun Aug 03, 2008 4:57 pm

Ah well.. I'm too lazy to think too much right now so i'm just gonna give my 2 cents worth of review. heh.

I feel that the invention or i suppose the discovery of the new LZR suit (Its pronounced as laser i suppose due to the fact that it can make swimmers go faster, duh!) is both a disgrace and miracle to world swimmers. Due to the presence of this swim suit, records were broken and controversy arises. I believe that not all swimmers can afford to wear the LZR suit as some of them are tied to bonds and are embassadors to certain labels such as TYR. As such, if it is really proven that the LZR swim suit can indeed improve a swimmer's performance, isn't that by wearing different suits, it defeats the purpose of having a competition which is to showcase the ability of the swimmers to swim? Obviously, the ability of the swimmers isn't the only factor which contributes to a swimmer's success and title but the suit as well. Hence, it is unfair to swimmers who have the ability to break records but is incapable of doing so due to the suit factor and therefore is a disgrace to the swimmer's ability.

I suggest that in the future, a standardised code for the swim suit in which a swimmer can wear for competitions will be implemented. This is to provide justification for a swimmer's ability to break records and bring glory to their country. Not because of the suit but the ability in itself.

Waaahhhh....i think this is the shortest one i've ever written. heh. Ok now, back to do other stuff! TATA~~!!!! What a Face
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Re:Making A Splash

Post  Xavier on Mon Aug 04, 2008 10:32 pm

The article talks about the suit giving an edge to swimmers enabling them to break records easily,but no consideration has been the development of sports technology and science and also individual ability.

Sports science is used by Arsene Wenger of the Arsenal football team to keep his players in shape and with the balance in the different aspects of the human make-up in pursuing the best results. Is he indeed wrong in providing an edge for his players and deemed to be cheating?The answer is probably no,just take a look at the other clubs that have followed in his footsteps(Chelsea,Manchester United just to name a few) adopting the technology and revolutionizing the world of football today.

The case against the use of these new bodysuits takes no regard in the fact that if one has the technology to use,one would use it to achieve the best performance. Is fear indeed driving the debate over the use of these suits? Fear is a psychological barrier that the bodysuits developed by Speedo creates in other competitors. The opponents also have the choice of choosing to fear it or to overcome it,so it might also drive others to persevere on.

Furthermore,the LZR-body suit is just an instrument which helps the swimmer perform better,not one which controls the swimmer,but the swimmer displaying his ability to push the limits.


Other characteristics such as the article above on Michael Phelps unique body features have enabled him to break numerous record and in the coming Beijing Olympics challenge Mark Spitz's record of 7 gold in Munich in 1972. Besides,the company has sovereignty over the choices it make such as to engage the expertise of NASA team to do tests to improve on the material for its commercial line of production,the Olympics being just one of its marketing channels.

The comments of past records being set not based on this technology is not a convincing argument as due to globalization,the area of science and technology has developed and internalized in our various operations,be it industrial,communications and also in the sporting arena.

To conclude,the swimsuit itself only contributes to providing a better swim for the swimmer,but its true essence lies in the training and the ability(physical,mental strength) of the swimmer to achieve greater things.
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