New Swimming World Records: Technology or Training?

Yesterday was the final day of the World Swimming Championships in Rome. In the 40 swimming events, there were 43 new world records (Records were not set in every event, but in some events they were set several times between prelims, semifinals and finals). This is amazing and unprecedented.

Many give credit to the new technology of swimsuits, which give swimmers a greater buoyancy. For this reason FINA is banning these swimsuits from next year, arguing that the swimsuits are helping swimmers as swimming enhancing technology. Some even say that the swimsuits are making a mockery of the sport, being it so easy to break a world record. In one of the finals, a swimmer made a time under the old world record, but was fifth place...

Well, let us note that some swimmers, e.g. Phelps, Lochte, Peirsol, were not using the latest technology in swimsuits, and nevertheless they broke world records. It is not only the swimsuits.

Also, should the swimsuits be really banned? It is a complicated question. OK, the technology enhances swimming. But then should goggles be banned as well? They are technology. They were partially responsible for the 29 world records set in the Montreal Olympic games... (In Beijing last year, "only" 25 were broken...) And certainly, you don't want to allow all kinds of technology. I am not speaking about motors, of course, but fins or paddles... (well, that is why you have special championships to swim with fins and tanks...). But where to draw the boundary? I guess that everybody would agree that what needs to be regulated is that all swimmers compete in similar conditions, and the restrictions on the swim suits achieved that...

How much the world records depended on the swimsuits? We will see next year, when everybody will be competing without them: If they cannot make the same times, then the swimsuits are to blame. If they do, then it confirms that the improvement in the sport is due to better training, techniques, and understanding of fluid dynamics.

I believe that world records will still be broken, and those set in Rome will not last for a long time.


Richard Veryard said…
As you rightly point out, the boundary between "technology" and "training" is not as obvious as it might at first appear. I have added this example to my recent post on Understanding Technology.

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