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Sports tech: Why super Speedo is making a splash yet again

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Speedo is no stranger to revolutionary tech. But 15 years on since the ban of a race suit they produced that was deemed “technical doping”, they’re back with a new bit of space age tech that could change the swimming world. Matt Hardy takes a deep dive.

Pharmaceutical doping has been at the heart of some of sport’s biggest modern controversies and the mass rebuttal of its use has seen, at times, retrospective justice given to athletes way beyond their professional careers.

But in 2008 swimming was hit with what some described as doping of another kind: technical. The LZR Pro (pronounced laser) suit was Speedo’s hot thing ahead of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. It was a revolution in swimming technology where athletes could rely on a new style of race suit that soon had proven results.

The suit went from the neck to ankle, was made from ultrasonically bonded seams and was consulted upon by Nasa experts. Time Magazine hailed the suit as one of the greatest inventions of 2008 behind the Retail DNA Test and the Tesla.

A total of 94 per cent of the Olympic races that year were won by somebody wearing the LZR and 98 per cent of all medals had the same common denominator.

Michael Phelps wore the bottom half of the suit in the Chinese capital when he won eight gold medals, with some questioning what he could have achieved if he’d have worn the entire outfit.

Speedo outlawed

But 15 years ago, at the World Swimming Championships, the governing body of the sport – then Fina, now World Aquatics – outlawed the suit.

Some saw this as a just result given the inability for all athletes to get their hands on one – mainly due to sponsor agreements – but some described Fina’s call as unfair and a barrier to testing the true boundaries of human possibility.

But there’s only so long you can deny the advancements which are commonly made in the world of sports technology: golf clubs change, referees are given video help and AI has started influencing the future of illegal sports betting.

Back in the water, as hundreds of athletes take the plunge at next week’s World Aquatics Championships in Doha, they’ll do so with a new-found feel for life in the fast lane.

Speedo’s new Fastskin LZR Intent and Valor 2.0 swimsuits are – literally – space age. 

Using space technology to improve water-repelling qualities, the suits – from the shoulder to knee for women and from the waist to knee for men – are new versions of the 2019 Fastskins, which were used in 75 per cent of all records set in 2023.

One of the wearers of the latest pairs of jammers is Matt Richards, Team GB Olympic gold medalist in the 4×200 metre freestyle relay and multiple world champion.

Best parts of previous suits

“The suit that Speedo has brought out has taken all of the best parts of the previous suits, known worldwide, and just improved it across the board,” he tells City A.M.

“It is more durable, it’s more water resistant. The whole concept of the design has been taken, tweaked and improved.

“It gives you a lot, it helps you stay buoyant in the water and, for the men, who wear the shorts, their hips are a lot higher in the water where usually this is more of a significant drag point.

“They allow me to move through the water a lot quicker and easier as well, which is part of what makes the suit better. You can swim better for longer.”

Aquatic marginal gains on steroids, one could say. But sport in general is no stranger to discussions around whether we should fully embrace tech. Athletics has dabbled with smart spikes for runners while motor racing teams are looking for the next carbon fibre equivalent.

And there’s a question of fairness and transparency, too. Should Speedo be allowed a monopoly on race tech when other manufacturers cannot offer their athletes the same, and is this level of advancement remotely fair to competitors? 

Loved the old Speedo suit

“I was never around for the body suit era but it is something I grew up watching and I loved it. The times they were able to put down [were fast],” Duncan Scott, a British swimmer who won four medals at Tokyo 2020 to become the most decorated Briton at a single Olympic Games, tells City A.M.

“It did allow for some people to put together some pretty formidable swims which would otherwise be a bit questionable given how good the suits were, but I have heard a lot about the new suit and I have been part of the research. I am really excited about racing in it.

“They’ve made a bit of a leap forward so that’s quite exciting. It is such a fine detail between who can be first and second that it’s reassuring knowing how good this suit is.

“If you put on an old suit and compare it to the Fastskin 2.0, it’s huge: the compression and how tight it is, how flexible it is, it has that shiny feeling where the water just drips off it. I feel lucky and I love it.”

Embrace tech

We should embrace tech, change and advancements in sporting achievements, right? It’s the only way elite athletes can continue to push the boundaries of what is possible in sport.

But to what level do we allow this? We have seen in the past how Speedo and versions of their LZR have come a cropper to claims of an unfair, so-called technical doping advantage.

“Fina wishes to recall the main and core principle that swimming is a sport essentially based on the physical performance of the athlete,” the governing body said in 2009 when it put restrictions on full-body suits.

The percentage of winners wearing the new tech is down at Olympic level compared to those wearing the 2008 version. So, leaving aside the idea that swimmers have got better in relative comparison to possible technology advancements, the new Speedo may just need to be content with being the world’s latest leader in the fight to promote technology and ambition in the sporting world, but one which can still be reeled in.

Speedo’s Fastskin 2.0 is now available to purchase from selected retailers and online at – https://www.speedo.com/

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