Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Silence in the Stands, or, Anyone for a Record?

The Olympic swimming events aren’t even over, and I can’t wait for the stats. It seems everyone and his frog (sorry :-) is breaking a record these days. I wrote a while back about Speedo’s LZR swimming suit…you know, the one which is more of a performance enhancer than most drugs? The men’s 4 X 100m freestyle relay was a great illustration of the phenomenal achievements in swimsuit design typified by the LZR. From the online media:

“The Americans shattered the world record set by their ''B'' team the previous evening in the preliminaries, touching with a time of 3 minutes, 8.24 seconds - nearly 4 full seconds below the 15-hour-old mark. Bernard was the world record holder in the 100, but he surrendered that mark as well. Australia's Eamon Sullivan broke the individual record by swimming the leadoff leg in 47.24 - ahead of Bernard's mark of 47.50. Lezak swam his 100 in a staggering 46.06, the fastest relay leg in history, though it doesn't count as an official record.”

Jason Lezak’s swim was awesome, regardless of what he was wearing. But why are these records tumbling so easily? If it isn’t drugs, it can really only be technology. I refuse to believe that refinements in training regimes and swimming techniques are responsible for such drastic reductions in record times. How much then do these records really mean? Just where are the IOC/WADA watchdogs, and why aren’t they barking?


Mike Austin said...

I suppose many would say that the LZR suits are similar to the advances in technology in other sports, such as carbon fiber bicycles, changes in the size and composition of tennis rackets, and so on. So it is not merely performance-enhancement, apparently, that is the issue, but rather the type of performance-enhancement that is of concern, ethically speaking. Making the distinction between EPO and LZR suits in a non-arbitrary way is the challenge, I think. And I say this as someone who is against the use of performance-enhancing substances.

Carl Thomen said...

Exactly. As I have said before, I think the best place to start is with the possible harm posed by drugs to the athlete concerned - clearly we can't use the "unfair advantage" line because, as we have seen, technology may give an unfair advantage. I am also struggling to shake off a nagging doubt concerning the connection between performance enhancers and the emphasis we place on winning in modern-day, professional sport.

Emily Ryall said...

One suggestion for the fast times in Beijing was due to the pool being 3m deep rather than the traditional 2m depth. The extra depth means that the water remains 'smoother' for longer as the disturbance wave caused by the swimmer takes more time to hit the bottom and bounce back up to them. This would imply that if they were swimming in a 4m deep pool, the times would be faster still. I presume though that there must be an optimum depth, after which there is no more improvement.