Speedo's technologically advanced Fastskin LZR Racer swimsuit generated a lot of controversy when it was first introduced in February of 2008. Michael Phelps wore the suit when he broke seven world records at the 2008 Summer Olympics. Dozens of other athletes sponsored by Speedo have worn the suit as well, leading to 182 world records broken by swimmers wearing a LZR Racer as of June 2009.
The LZR (pronounced laser) swimsuit claims its hydrodynamic success by replicating biological skin characteristics of various marine animals such as sharks and dolphins. It allows for higher oxygen flow to the muscles and holds the body in a more hydronomic position. The ultra-thin suit itself is composed of woven elastane-nylon and polyurethane panels which repel water, reduce muscle oscillations, and lower hydrodynamic drag by up to 10%. The seams of the suit are also bonded together ultrasonically to further reduce drag.
Speedo also received support from NASA and used computational fluid dynamics software from ANSYS for fluid flow analysis.
The supremacy of swimsuits from Speedo has led to a spate of development from rival firms. Two of the most interesting are the Jaked 01 and the Arena Powerskin X-Glide. Both were disqualified in May from the approved list of swimsuits by FINA, the sports federation for swimming, diving, synchronized swimming, water polo and open water swimming. A FINA statement said that the 10 swimsuits were rejected "for not passing the tests of buoyancy and/or thickness".
However, French sprinters Alain Bernard and Frederic Bousquet had already used the new suits to set new world records earlier before the ruling.
Bernard was denied the world record title in 100m freestyle swimming after FINA decided his world record time of 46.94 seconds would not hold up because he was wearing the Arena Powerskin X-Glide.
Bousquet wore the Jaked 01 in May at the Charlotte UltraSwim, beating out Michael Phelps in the 100m final. His world record time of 20.94 seconds in the 50m freestyle was allowed, even though the Jaked 01 was not approved.
Adding to the controversy is the fact that FINA reversed its decision to disqualify the swimsuits on June 19, citing that "it would require considerable time to create and implement comprehensive control mechanisms and test methods which would permit to establish the effect with absolute certainty in connection with particular swimsuits".
Since they could not test individual suits reliably for the air-trapping effects, they would allow the use of the suits on a temporary basis. Such a large reversal meant that many athletes were making last minute decisions on swimsuits.
Many swimming athletes earn most of their income through sponsorship deals with swimsuit companies. This makes it a difficult choice when a new, more technologically advanced and higher performing suit becomes available. They can choose to wear the new suits and possibly post their best ever times, but at the loss of sponsorship money and possibly severe financial penalties.
Michael Phelps was awarded a $1 million bonus from Speedo for beating Mark Spitz's record of seven gold medals. He has decided to stick with Speedo.
"It does take away from some things," Phelps said. "A lot of swimmers are going to put up a lot of great times this summer, and a lot of it is going to be headlined by the suits. I just think it's not fair to other athletes and the athletes out there performing."
The US National Swim Championships will be held next week, from July 7 to July 11. The FINA World Championships will be held in Rome, Italy from July 18 to August 2.