Faster Swimsuits:A Counterrevolution against Technological Progress?

The point of competitive swimming is to go faster, right? So why ban form-fitting high-tech swimsuits which help competitors go faster? Here’s an excerpt from a Newark Star-Ledger piece on high-tech swimsuits:

Turns out, the LZR suits were just the beginning. In the past 18 months, Speedo’s design led to a procession of knock-off, high-tech bodysuits trending even faster and more like buoyant rubber wet suits. More than 150 world records (and counting) have fallen in these various suits, pushing the boundary of technology’s impact — until FINA, swimming’s international governing body, finally pushed back on July 24.

The result: A near-unanimous vote by its member nations to ban these high-tech suits — as well as any form of bodysuit or non-textile material — starting Jan. 1, 2010. The new rules will dial back swimsuit technology a decade, more extreme than some expected, but should also slow the assault on the record books and halt the manufacturers’ technological race.

Okay, this is not the steroid debate, where people could argue that steroids are both illegal and also potentially harmful. The new swimsuits are legal; no swimmers will be hurt by wearing the swimsuits; and they are potentially available to everyone.

I can understand, if you’ve trained for years under one set of conditions, that you might be upset. But banning them?

The question is whether this counterrevolution against technological progress in swimming is a harbinger of things to come in other areas of the economy. A distrust of innovation, a distaste for change. I’d hate to think so.

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