Business & Economy Science & Technology Education & Society Sports & Fashion Arts & Entertainment
Top Picks Back Numbers Search

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.

Scaled Swimsuit
Thanks to recent instances overseas of male swimmers achieving good results with unitard-like gear that covers most of the body--all the way from the neck down to the ankles--swimsuits with larger surface areas are taking the competitive swimming scene by storm. The evolution of swimwear has played a vital part in the history of the sport, where a hundredth of a second makes all the difference.

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
Looking back at the evolution of competitive swimwear for women, it was in 1964, on the occasion of the Tokyo Olympic Games, that the fabric switched from silk to 100% nylon. Over the years the shape was gradually improved for greater efficiency, and at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics a hole was cut out around the lower back and the hip line was raised slightly, exposing more skin than ever before. From then on developing low-friction fabric became the focal point; 1996 saw the emergence of a fabric processed to repel water, which debuted at the Atlanta Games.

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.

Trends in JapanEdited 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.