High-Tech Swimming: Is It Cheating?

February 2nd, 2010 by Kathy McManus

If clothes make the man, can they also make the man a cheater?

Brought to you by Liberty Mutual's
The Responsibility Project

If clothes make the man, as Mark Twain said, can they also make the man a cheater?

According to a report in The Wall Street Journal, high-tech swimwear—those super-propellant, shoulder-to-ankle bodysuits favored by competitive swimmers—has been responsible in part for setting almost 200 new world records in the last two years.

Less porous and much more buoyant than old-fashioned spandex, the polyurethane and neoprene speed suits may have turned many swimmers into winners they wouldn’t otherwise be. But reducing drag has produced a rub. “You don’t set records anymore unless you’re wearing a floating suit,” complained a competitor who shuns the high-tech assist. “It’s obviously cheating.”

The International Swimming Federation—the sport’s ruling body—agreed to ban the bodysuits starting in January 2010. But for the 50,000 competing members of the U.S. Masters Swimming organization, the suits are still in use and making waves. One Masters official likened the use of speed suits to the home run advantage of a baseball player on steroids.

The sports community is divided. “Swimming at its heart is a non-tech sport. It is your body and the water,” said one opponent of high-tech. “I’m not sure how these suits are any different than strapping a motorized propeller to yourself…” Countered another, “Tennis players and golfers use the latest technology in equipment. Why not swimmers?” And there was this rationale: “If all the swimmers are clad in these hi-tech suits, it is not cheating.”

But an Olympic medal-winning swimmer from Australia welcomed the international ban on speed suits, along with a seeming return to personal responsibility in the sport, saying “…we should be back to the normal way of swimming and knowing where you stand…and how fast you can swim on any given day.”

Tell us what you think: Are high-tech speed suits unfair? If a swimmer wears one, is he/she cheating?