Timekeeper gives swimmers a boost
By Pat Butcher and Roger Blitz
Published: August 12 2008 22:21 | Last updated: August 12 2008 22:21
Michael Phelps and the swimming rivals trailing in his wake will have a new technological aid after these Olympics, in yet another example of sport allying with business in pursuit of new ways to go even faster.
As if the advent of Speedo’s LZR swimsuits were not enough of a boost, swimmers are also to have the benefit of the rather more mundane starting block. These have been used for decades by athletics sprinters but curiously no one until now thought they might also aid swimmers.
Pushing off: Michael Phelps
The starting block for the pool is designed to ensure the swimmer’s legs are bent at a 90-degree angle, the perfect position for ensuring a fast start. Built into the block is a speaker to improve ability to respond to the starter’s bleep.
Perhaps even more unusual is that the idea came from Omega, official timekeeper of the Olympics. Since the company is involved in recording how fast athletes perform, it has also decided to help them speed up.
Purists might argue that the official timekeeper, an impartial actor in the administration of sport whose integrity must be beyond question, should not be involved in helping athletes go faster. The search for an edge over rivals, the perennial pursuit for the competitor who feels training is not enough, has often led to Olympic glory but more frequently to the precipice, or over it, of legality.
Stephen Urquhart, president of Omega, is untroubled. “We help the athletes to get better efficiency on their push,” he says.
It is virtually an article of faith that swimming world records have to be revised at every Olympic Games, but Speedo’s latest fashion accessory for the pool – retailing at a modest $550 – verges on being a new commandment.
Before these games, 46 world records were achieved this year by wearers of the LZR Racer. And the first three days’ finals in the Beijing Water Cube have pushed that tally past the half-century.
Technology, innovation and sport have long enjoyed a rich relationship. For example, it took the engineering student Dick Fosbury to realise that jumping backwards over a bar, although counter-intuitive, allowed you to jump higher. Fosbury won Olympic high jump gold in Mexico 1968 and within a decade no one was doing the old-fashioned straddle, western roll or eastern cutaway.
On Tuesday it was Nike’s turn to show off its latest product, the “second skin” Zoom Aerofly spiked shoe. It was modelled by the sprinter Asafa Powell, a favourite for the 100m title.
The Jamaican, not unexpectedly, said of the shoe: “It’s a lot more aerodynamic than my previous shoes.” Saturday’s 100m final will be an early test of that view.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2008