The new Speedo LZR Racer suit, that is. Designed with all the power of science and technology behind it, the LZR Racer is being credited with imparting enhanced, record-breaking athletic performances to its wearers.
It was designed using the same technology applied to reducing drag on the Space Shuttle, with the goal of diminishing the friction and skin movement that normally occur during swimming, thus improving overall hydrodynamics. It’s a cool story from the scientific perspective, to be sure, but the public reaction since its unveiling in February 08, and now with the Olympic Swimming competitions coming up, has been just a teensy bit hysterical.
I have to hand it to the Speedo marketing team. Dropping ‘NASA’ into any conversation about your product is sure to get people’s attention, and beyond that, the look and promise of the suit is truly reminiscent of something Edna Mode might have whipped up.
So you get a bunch of top tier athletes, adorn them in the best suit technology can buy, extoll its performance-enhancing properties, and have them all feeling like superheroes going into a race. Is there a psychologist in the house who can predict the probable effect here? And is it any surprise that the competitors who don’t have LZR rocket super-suits are pretty much shitting bricks about this?
Oh yes, the competition is crying foul heading into the Olympic games. Entreaties have been made to FINA, the international governing body of organized aquatic sports, to ban the suit from competition, to no avail. In a stellar display of hyperbole, Italian swim coach Alberto Castagnetti has declared the suit tantamount to “technological doping.”, but his complaints have garnered little sympathy.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for fairness in competitive sports. I hate doping, not only because of the unfair advantage it can confer but because of the short-sighted greed it denotes–greed for both the victory and the spoils. Spending hours and hours on conditioning to improve performance is one thing; intrusive meddling with one’s body chemistry through injecting hormones or proteins targeted to increasing red blood cell density, etc. is a different proposition entirely, and reveals an ugly, desperate side of professional athletics. The line blurs a little bit in situations where medically necessary reconstructive surgery (of, say, a baseball pitcher’s shoulder) ends up enhancing performance by imparting increased joint mobility. It would be a shame to ban athletes who were able to return to peak performance after such a procedure, but it would be deeply disturbing if athletes were compelled to undergo this surgery without need with the express purpose of gaining a competitive edge.
This, however, is a merely a swimsuit. An externally applied and fully removable garment that anyone in the world, at least in principle, can purchase and use. A product with such dramatic hype attached that it will be virtually impossible to determine how much of the resulting performance enhancement is due to the power of suggestion, rather than the superior crafting. Get over yourself, Italian coach. Let the Games begin!
I neglected to note that this post was authored by Danio. I apologize for the omission.