Speedo’s quest for a sexless Olympics

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The race is on to suit up swimmers for the Beijing Summer Games.

That’s good news for competitors squeezed into Speedo’s LZR Racer, who have broken 38 world records since its introduction in February, and bad news for fans of the hunk factor found at every Olympics.

Speedo’s technological marvel, though, is – excuse the pun – causing waves in the swimming world, dividing those who favor the suit and the alleged two percent advantage it delivers against those who argue the application of thin polyurethane panels on the Racer breaks the rules.

For years, the trend was to make swimsuits that covered as little skin as possible – high-cut legs and wide-open backs for women, tiny boomerang-shaped numbers for men. But allowing bodysuits before the Sydney Summer Olympics in 2000 reversed that trend, increasing the potential for new technology.

For its work on the LZR Racer, Speedo conducted tests on a host of materials with NASA wind tunnels used to determine surface friction on spacecrafts re-entering the earth’s atmosphere. The swimsuit features a “compression zone” around the torso and other parts of the body, allowing swimmers to conserve energy by reducing muscle and skin vibration.

Michael Phelps (photo right) wears the Racer; in fact, he was one of the Olympians that helped roll it out in February. French swimmer Alain Bernard (photo above) also sports the suit. Both cases highlight my argument that although the Racer makes swimmers faster, it makes them a whole lot less sexy.

If we can’t enjoy – and by enjoy, I mean see – the bulges and ripples that make men’s swimming events in the Olympics so sexy, then what’s the point?

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