SCALING TO THE TOP:
Evolving Swimsuits Key to Faster Records
August 31, 1999
Japan's swimmers are ready to break records with the help of high-tech suits. Six models used at previous Olympic Games are shown on the right. (Mizuno Corp.)
In June 1999, after a three-year absence, Japan's former top swimmer Suzu Chiba suddenly broke two Japanese records in the women's 100- and 200-meter freestyle events at the national swimming championships. What surprised the public probably just as much as her comeback was her swimsuit that went down to her thighs. Though its design has an antique look, this garment bore a key role in Chiba's return to the spotlight. Made of fabric that boasts less friction against water than human skin and engineered so as to effectively stimulate the muscles, it stands at the vanguard of an ever-evolving line of competitive swimwear.
Chiba's new swimsuit was developed by Mizuno Corp., the top manufacturer of sporting goods in Japan. Printing water-repellent fish-scale patterns on 80% polyester, 20% polyurethane fabric reduced surface friction by 25% compared to the average swimsuit--to even less than that of human skin. The developers therefore made optimal use of this fabric by extending the swimsuit to just above the knees instead of cutting it off at the hip. The tight hug on the thighs also minimizes the muscles' extraneous movements.
Full-length swimsuits can take as much as an hour to put on. But this is hardly a drag for ambitious athletes, who are eager to slash their energy loss with these cutting-edge innovations and improve their records. Chiba, the first to compete in Mizuno's new legsuit, as it is called, is satisfied with its performance: "Until now, water used to get under my swimsuit, which distracted me. But this time hardly any water came in, and there was considerably less drag."
Three Decades of Development
The latest model, while seemingly retrogressing in terms of silhouette, nonetheless stands ahead of all its predecessors thanks to the brand-new fabric. At the Sydney Games in September 2000, the world may be witnessing a succession of new world records produced by athletes clad in thigh- or full-length swimsuits.
Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.