The Roar
The Roar


The answer to the Olympic swim suit controversy

24th February, 2009
15483 Reads

The men's 100m freestyle swimmers start. AAP Image/Julian Smith

FINA, the international organisation governing swimming, and sixteen leading swimsuit manfacturers have developed new rules on what swimmers can wear in international swimming tournament.

The rules, in my opinion, are fine for all events outside of the World Championships, the Commonwealth games and the Olympic Games.

In the future, swimsuits will not extend past the shoulders, below the ankles or above the neck. A buoyancy standard will be created that cannot be exceeded. And swimmers will not be able to wear multiple suits like the Olympic champion Frederica Pellegrini, who had four suits on when she won her medal at Beijing.

The advent of the fast suit has lead the sport into a technology-led drive that resulted in 108 world records since the introduction of ‘performance-enhancing’ swimsuits.

The irony in all of this is that while swimmers wearing the suits have smashed records and the manufacturers have encouraged the use of the suits because they are faster, FINA and the Olympic authorities have been assured that these suits do not give terrific advantages to those who wear them.

In Dawn Fraser’s day, the swimsuits were a drag on the swimmers. The manufacturers developed thinner and thinner material to eliminate the drag. 

Sometimes these suits, in a certain light, were so thin that they were embarrassing for female swimmers to use.

Now the latest models are a huge booster to the performance of the swimmers.


Those swimmers using the suits have a great advantage over those who do not have access to them. This advantage, which will be maintained although on a slightly reduced level with the new rules, destroys the proper competition that the Olympics are supposed to be about.

My answer to the problem of ensuring a level swimming pool is for FINA to provide a standardised swimsuit for every competitor. In this way, the best swimmer on the day or night, rather than the best-resourced swimmer, will win the medals.

There is a precedent for this.

Javelin technology got so sophisticated that the javelins were liable to be thrown into the stands, impaling an unfortunate spectator if things went wrong. So javelins were standardised with the technology cut back.

And at the Olympics, the throwers use javelins from a common group of javelins.

Scott Fitzgerald ends his masterpiece The Great Gatsby with the marvellous aphorism: “A rising tide lifts all the boots.”

The rising tide of the fast swimsuits should lift all the Olympic swimmers.