Olympic barracuda swimsuits

2012-07-17 21:05
Lisbeth Trickett, wearing a Speedo swimsuit, waving to the crowd before the women's 100m freestyle semi-final at the Australian Olympic swimming trials in Adelaide. (David Mariuz, AFP, File)

Lisbeth Trickett, wearing a Speedo swimsuit, waving to the crowd before the women's 100m freestyle semi-final at the Australian Olympic swimming trials in Adelaide. (David Mariuz, AFP, File)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

kalahari.com

  • London Olympics 2012
    Information about the London Olympics 2012, including the countdown, an overview of Olympic venues ... Now R139.00
    buy now

New York - The sharkskin has been retired. The swim bladder, too. For London's Olympic swimmers, the watchword is more "barracuda".

Swimsuit makers have long sought inspiration in the oceans, where evolution spent about 500 million years sculpting bodies shaped to cut through the water with the least drag or studded with features that increase speed. That led some manufacturers earlier this decade to develop full-body, impermeable suits: water could not get in and air could not get out, trapping air inside and increasing buoyancy much as fish's swim bladders do.

Water offers greater resistance than air, so swimmers whose bodies rise higher in the water have an advantage. That led international swimming federation FINA to outlaw full-body, impermeable suits in 2009.

The other innovation of the last decade was Speedo International's sharkskin-inspired suits. Called Fastskin and introduced in 2000 for the Sydney Olympics, the suit was studded with tiny hydrofoils with V-shaped ridges like the "dermal denticles" on sharkskin. It seemed to be a success: 83% of swimming medals at Sydney went to athletes wearing Fastskin.

That was not quite slam-dunk evidence of its superiority. Speedo, owned by the Pentland Group, had reached out to the very top competitors to wear its suits in the first place.

In March, researchers at Harvard University published an analysis of Fastskin and real shark skin in the Journal of Experimental Biology. They found that although real shark skin was 12% faster with denticles than without, Speedo's fabric was not. It was actually faster inside out than with the denticles exposed to the water.

By the time the study appeared, Speedo was already years into research on Fastskin's successor. Called Fastskin3 and first used in competition this year, it includes caps, goggles and suits that redistribute water flow around a swimmer to decrease drag, partly by compressing the body's silhouette along the lines of the predatory barracuda.

"We operated on the principle of minimal gains," said Joe Santry, research manager for the company's Aqualab. Rather than getting a huge increase in performance from a single design change, Speedo's scientists squeezed a few percentage points of improvement from many individual modifications. The fruit of their efforts will be on display next week at the London Olympic Games.

They started at the top. "The cap and goggles are the first things that hit the water, so they can create turbulence downstream in a way that affects the performance of the suit," said Santry.

Digital avatar

The scientists scanned athletes to produce a three-dimensional, digital avatar. They then manipulated various parts of it - squeezing here, filling in there - and used computational fluid dynamics to calculate how each change altered drag "until we found a theoretically perfect body form".

Take the cap. The standard model is a plain silicone bowl that wrinkles at the top. Those wrinkles, like any protuberance, create drag. But shaping a cap to the average human head shape - determined by the 3D head-scanning - minimizes wrinkles.

The new cap also has room to pack hair at the nape. That fills what is otherwise a dip between the head and the back. "That dip creates a pressure drag," explained Santry: a region of lower pressure that ever-so-slightly sucks the swimmer backward. Packing the hair into the gap decreases that drag 3.4% compared to standard silicone caps.

The most hydrodynamic goggles shape - a full-face mask reminiscent of Batman's - violates FINA rules. But the runner-up takes the water flowing over the head to the eye sockets and basically attaches that flow to the face, creating an ultra-smooth "boundary layer" of water.

Smoothness is key. Boundary layers naturally flow toward regions of low pressure, which can split up the layers and create turbulence, increasing drag. The optimal goggle design is shaped like a water droplet and turned up at the temples. "It's unlike anything on the market," said Santry.

The goggles cut drag 2.2% versus other Speedo models.

The suit redesign addressed the fact that 80% of the drag on swimmers comes from their shape. That meant compressing fleshy areas like the thighs, rear end and, for women, the chest, all with Lycra panels sewn into the suit.

While other suits absorb water, Fastskin3 repels it. Less weight from the suit means each stroke propels a swimmer farther. So after four years and 55 000 hours of research and testing, the complete outfit reduces drag by 16.6% compared to standard gear, Speedo says.

That translates into an approximately .11% potential increase in speed. Not huge, but then the difference between winning gold and silver can be thousandths of a second. At Beijing, American Michael Phelps finished 0.01 second ahead of Serbia's Milorad Cavic in the 100m butterfly. Phelps will be wearing Fastskin3, as will team mate Tyler Clary and Britain's Rebecca Adlington.

"The recent suits work," said kinesiologist Joel Stager of Indiana University, who has studied the science behind swimming for decades. "The earlier ones [with denticles] didn't."

As it happens, compressing swimmers' bodies has a benefit besides reducing drag: it also increases blood flow. Think of it as a legal version of blood doping.

Read more on:    olympics 2012  |  us  |  technology
NEXT ON NEWS24X

SHARE:

Read News24’s Comments Policy

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
0 comments
Add your comment
Comment 0 characters remaining
 

Inside News24

 
/News
 
Traffic
Lottery
 
  • Wednesday Newlands - 09:17 AM
    Road name: M3 Northbound
    DELAYS approaching the Rhodes Avenue exit
  • Wednesday Cape Town - 09:08 AM
    Road name: N2 Inbound
    DELAYS between the N7 Highway and the M5 Highway Interchange
 
More traffic reports...
 

Jobs in Cape Town [change area]

Property [change area]

Travel - Look, Book, Go!

Magical Massinga

Spend 5 nights at the gorgeous Massinga Beach Lodge in Mozambique and only pay for 4 from R13 220 per person sharing. Includes return flights, accommodation, transfers and romantic turndown. Book now!

Kalahari.com - shop online today

Up to 60% off - clearance sale!

Save up to 60% on appliances, books, electronics, toys, movies and more. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

Deal of the Week!

Get bestselling John Green novels now just R99 each! Hurry and get yours while stocks last. Shop here.

Mind blowing deals on beauty & fragrances

Save up to 30% off beauty and fragrances. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

Up to 50% off hair care products!

Save up to 50% on professional hair care products at kalahari.com. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

30% off academic books

Score a mind blowing 30% off academic books! Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

OLX Free Classifieds [change area]

Samsung Galaxy s4

Mobile, Cell Phones in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 24

Best bargain in big bay

Real Estate, Houses - Apartments for Sale in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

VW Golf 6, 1.6 Trendline (Excellent condition)

Vehicles, Cars in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

Nokia N9

The Nokia N9 has a beautiful one-piece, unibody design where...

From R2899.00

I'm shopping for:

Horoscopes
Aquarius
Aquarius

It is always easier to look out and see what needs changing. Looking in is a lot harder... Today you may need to look at what...read more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.








Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.