2010 Swimwear of the Year

This entry is part 6 of 7 in the series Columns

Swimming in the years B.J. (before Jaked) supposedly wasn’t a sport of high interest. There seemed to be a lonely warrior, Michael Phelps, on a quest to bring swimming to the main stream and into the living rooms of millions of people. The road to his 8 gold medals at the 2008 Olympics certainly took swimming out of the 4 year shadow the sport was known for. But who would have thought that this would be just the start of swimming media mania? The so called “shiny suits” made their way into swimming and with them the world record line on television looked like a technical error by the broadcaster with oftentimes the full field ahead of it.

Swimming was nothing like we knew it B.J. anymore. Legends were taken down and the rate at which world records were broken was higher than any FINA staff member possibly could hold up with. Most WR probably never officially were one as the approval process took longer than another swimmer taking down the new standard once more. I wonder if they even cared to hand out the official certificate you’ll get for a WR. FINA’s administrative expenses must have tripled at least during the shiny suit era.

And of course selling suits that regularly ripped after a single use had to be more than just a great business to be in. Let’s face the truth, most of us were not sponsored by one of the suit manufacturers and the pressure to under perform or get beaten up at a meet wasn’t an option and the dollars bills ended up wrapped around our bodies in form of one of those shiny suits.

Even in the years B.J. I have never been a fan of the body suits. I always did better feeling the water right on my shaved skin. But either way, I was one of the few lucky swimmers who was able to try most of the shiny suits and even raced a relay in a Jaked without paying any money for it. And to this day I still regret that I pressured myself into this suit for my teammates. They thought I would go faster but the opposite happened. We ended up with a 4th place instead of winning the first national level relay medal for our club team. There’s no doubt for me that I could have gone faster without that shiny suit that day. I had a good meet and was ready to race with or without a fast suit. I still feel bad for my teammates and my club team today that something we all worked so hard for was influenced by a suit. On the other hand, I’m happy there’s no personal record in my books that I have to look at and question myself how in the world I will ever go back down there.

I guess the main reason why I didn’t like the body suits beside not feeling comfortable wearing them was it just didn’t work for me. I never felt like getting this advantage over my competitors just by wearing one of the fast suits. And this shaped up to be the biggest deal-breaker in the end. Not all athletes took away the same benefits and the playing field wasn’t equal anymore. It wasn’t solely about crowning the best swimmer anymore.

Believe me, I don’t question the excitement it brought to our sport and the main stream public boost that even overtook the heroic performance of the lonely warrior, Michael Phelps, on that very same quest. But then again, swimming got faster with or without the shiny suits and people start to be more interested in what’s going on in swimming year-round not just every 4 years. Great individuals and athletes such as Dara Torres, making her 5th Olympic team at age 40, or duals like Michael Phelps vs Milorad Cavic, Fred Bousquet vs Cesar Cielo vs Eamon Sullivan or just the depth we see in the men’s freestyle and backstroke races make swimming more exciting than ever even without the suits!

So what did we learn from what some cited to be the best and others the worst thing that happened to swimming in a long time? Well, I would say that one obvious point is that the female spectators are happy to see the swimmer bodies again and not some polyurethane robots. Seriously though, learned how important and sensitive drag is in the sport of swimming. Some 250 world records later, suddenly, we all realize that reducing drag is rather important.

And of course the fast athletes are still fast, swimming is still exciting and more importantly the great efforts by likes as Michael Phelps is why swimming is becoming more main stream.

This is why today a single piece of swimwear that was there for the last 16 years of my swimming career is still in my training bag today…the good old speedo. Back in 2008, Michael Phelps was SI Sportsman of the year that’s why today I decided to name the swimsuit of the year to be exactly that good old speedo.

Wishing you all a streamlined and successful New Year!