Tom Blackhall: Let world-class swimmers move with high-tech times

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Is the banning of the new high-tech swimsuits by the International swimming body FINA a wise thing to do? Or should they let technology in swimwear run its course as it as been allowed to in numerous other sports?

FINA claims the new all-polyurethane suits has put swimming's credibility at risk due to the rapid rate that world records are falling. And therefore it is necessary to revert to costumes made purely from textiles.

On top of this we have now had champion swimmer Michael Phelps' coach threatening a boycott. But is this not just a case of sour grapes - surely the shape of Phelps' current costume puts him at an advantage over someone wearing the good old fashioned "budgie smugglers".

To get complete fairness in competition it would have to be compulsory that everyone wears the exactly the same style of costume made of exactly the same type of textile.

Would it not be better to embrace this new technology and let the swimmers have what they want to wear? All it does is make great swimmers greater - what is wrong with that?

Let's look at some other very popular sports. Athletics: Cathy Freeman ran in a full body running suit in the 400m s final at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney and won the gold medal.

She had won the silver medal at the previous games in Atlanta wearing a standard leotard type running suit when she finished behind Marie-Jose Perec from France. Freeman's winning time in 2000 was 0.5 of a second slower than in 1996 so the suit most likely gave her no physical advantage.

But did it possibly give her a physiological advantage over her components? Who knows and who really cares. Wasn't it fantastic to see her crossing the line first wearing her green and gold suit and her aboriginal flag coloured shoes?

Michael Johnson, possibly the best 400m runner of all time, dashed to a 400m world record (43.18 seconds) at the 1999 World Championships in Seville, Spain wearing specially engineered Nike shoes. Tailored to fit not just the runner but also his running style, these shoes featured a new glass-filled sole plate that, at 30g, weighed half as much as previous designs while maintaining a delicate balance between stiffness and flexibility.

The shoes were specially designed just to last slightly longer than the race and could only be worn once. Were these shoes banned? No, they helped a great runner become even greater, and it was a sight to behold.

How would tennis players fare if they still had to use the old wooden racquets instead of letting technology run its course. Over the years tennis players have played with racquets made of steel, aluminum, graphite, fibreglass, titanium and the high-tech, ultra light carbon composite racquets of today?

The Tour de France cycle race has just finished but you can bet your life that the riders would still be cycling now if they still had to ride the same type of bicycles as in the first tour in 1903.

The old bikes were heavy steel objects that only had two gears, one for riding on the flat and when they came to the hills they had to "flip" the wheel over and use their "hill climbing gear". Since road racing gear derailleurs came of age in 1938, technology has advanced all aspects of a bicycle resulting in the ultra light, multi-geared ones used today.

Granted, all bicycles must meet the standards of the International Cycling Union. They may be specially engineered for speed for the time trials, but those used for the road stages of the race must be "standard design", but technology has not been halted and that is surely a good thing.

Can you imagine Tiger Woods being as good as he is today if he had to play with the wooden shafted golf clubs of old?

Golf clubs have evolved into high-tech instruments that have great durability, weight distribution and graduation utility and many more features that an ordinary layman like me cannot understand. There are no industry-wide standards for any golf club specification in the golf equipment industry.

Each club making company is free to make clubs to whatever "standard specifications" they deem appropriate.

However, most of the club companies today do pretty much subscribe to length specifications for their clubs which are relatively close to each other, but these have also changed over the years.

On top of this the evolution of clubs went hand in hand with the evolution of golf balls that were able to withstand harder whacks and fly greater distances, but that is too complex for me to understand.

We can all think of other sports that have embraced technology and made them more exciting to watch and partake in. FINA will be doing its sport a disadvantage if it does not allow it to go with the times.

* Tom Blackhall is a registered personal trainer.

- NZ Herald

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