Maybe You’re Born with It….

Amazing how the world’s fastest swimmers have breathed new life into the sport— thanks to the innovative swimsuit designed to reduce drag from a swimmers body under water, the Speedo LZR. Within months of its release, it has been worn by 36 of 40 swimmers who have broken world records. Now, swim coaches are strongly advising their swimmers to wear the Speedo LZR to make the pool an even playing field against any swimmer with a competitive advantage by wearing the suit. This is an interesting proposition to me for two reasons:

- The Speedo LZR is the next step in swim suit/gear innovations, as company’s understand the properties of humans moving in water and what the needs and demands of swimmers are. For this reason, it is only inevitable that more advanced products will sprout up from sponsoring company’s providing what their target demographic will need to succeed. Over the past 30 years, swimmers have eschewed wearing baggy swim trunks to competitive meets and opt to wear tight fitting Speedo swimsuits. Over the past 10-20 years, swimmers started to don a latex swim cap and googles to reduce water drag between a swimmers body in the water and make it more comfortable for them to see under water. Drag is the term swimming uses to express build up of water weight on a swimmers body creates excess resistance by weighing the swimmers body down under the water and in turn reducing a swimmers velocity. Nowadays, swimming companies are launching lengthy campaigns to make sure a swimmer has as little drag as possible. However, it wasn’t always done this way. Looking at photos of Mark Spitz in the 1972 Olympics you’ll see him step up to the starting block proudly clad in his Speedo, his face donning his signature “Stash”, bushy hair, and oh yeah — no swim cap or, even….googles. How far swimming apparel has come today…

- It also sparks an issue of how some athletes are genetically built to win with physiological attributes that make them perform at their sports optimal level. Athletes such as Michael Phelps in swimming, and Lance Armstrong in cycling have in turn raised the standard of excellence in their sports. Perhaps the Speedo swimming suit serves as the best equalizer the sport has nowadays to keep everyone performing at their best, even if they weren’t born with it.

US swim coach Mark Schbert was quoted in this Huffington Post article, “I would strongly advise (all swimmers) to wear the suit at trials, or they may end up at home watching on NBC,” Coach Schubert said. “Do you go for the money or for the gold? These athletes have been dreaming about winning an Olympic medal since they were eight or 10 years old and nobody can afford to give up two percent.”

I find this article very interesting from a marketing standpoint; the Speedo LZR swimsuit was obviously launched with a precisely targeted campaign timed with Michael Phelps pursuit of breaking Mark Spitz’s Olympic record of 8 gold medals at the 2008 Games. A record which has stood in tact for 36 years. All the bruhaha around the LZR swimsuit and Michael Phelps pursuit of gold is exactly what the sport of swimming needed to inspire Michael’s competitors (which was everyone in the water with him) as well as all Olympians female and male to wear the suit.

The Huffinton Post article says swimmers are finicky when it comes to wearing a suit that will give them a faster time, especially if they wear a suit that they are not bound to wear through their sponsorship deal. In sports, it’s all or nothing. It’s not a marriage of compromise with your swimsuit endorser. If they don’t win, they’re not as marketable for endorsements. However, if they lost while wearing the Speedo LZR then at least they won’t have anything in the back of their heads telling them they could have done anything differently besides give their race their all. I’m looking forward to see what’s next in swimsuit innovations.

Without dominant sports figures to breathe pizzazz into a sport whether it’s from going after a herculean task with gusto and making it happen like Michael Phelp’s 8 gold record to coming in “clutch” for your team like Jason Lezak’s last leg swim in the Men’s 400 freestyle relay that these swimming apparel innovations are less likely to continue to build momentum. The more successful swimmers become the spotlight of attention will continue to grow from fans, University swim programs and all swimmers alike.  As Inside Bay Area reports that Bay Area swimming pools have already seen an increase of attendance. Role models like Phelps and top notch swim programs will continue to train the next generation of swimmers to hone their craft and dream of gold at the Olympics. This increased interest will definitely make it easier for swimming companies such as Speedo, TYR and even Nike to fund projects to keep the spotlight shining brighter on swimming with new advancements. 

I feel like it’s also important to note that these Olympians are the BEST, because they’ve worked for their success. They’ve honed their craft for 15 hours a day swimming and lifting and doing everything it takes to succeed. The swimsuits are only there for SUPPORT….literally.

 

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Under a Global Microscope…What Will You Find?

As a result of the international media attention the Olympics receive, many countries use the Games as a podium to highlight political issues. Some examples are:

- Steven Spielberg’s resignation as creative director of the Beijing Olympics initiated by the Chinese government’s ties to human rights crimes in Sudan’s Darfur.

- Team Darfur’s speedskater, Joey Cheek’s revoked visa that prevented him from competing and advocating his political position. 

It’s possible that a country’s skeleton’s are more inclined to come out when the national microscope is examining them, and especially for a Communist country such as China. Yet, perhaps gymnastics fans would be just as likely to question the authenticity of the passports belonging to Team China’s seemingly underage female gymnasts without Bella Karoli and wife Marta’s opinionated statements on NBC?  Afterall, they are pretty small for 16 years old.

Despite headlines of revoked visa’s and speculation of authenticity, the one story that hasn’t heard much from the papers at all is when Iranian swimmer, Mohammad Alirezaei pulled out of the men’s 100-meter breaststroke minutes before his scheduled qualifying heat against Israel’s Tom Beer. I guess this should come as no surprise, as Israel hasn’t faced Iran since 1979. The NYT confirmed through the International Olympic Committee that Alirezaei pulled out of the competition as a result of illness. If it had not been confirmed repercussions would have been severe, as it goes against the spirit of the games to withdraw for political or religious reasons. Nonetheless, it just seems like an UNUSUAL move given the context and especially knowing that US swimmer, Ryan Lochte competed for three days in the Games with a stomach illness. I mean, that must have been some sickness to keep him from his dream of competition…Poor guy! Doubly so, because this is an example that every move an Olympian makes will be amplified with a global magnifying glass and examined.

You could potentially look at the rivalry between these competing athletes as a reflection of the brutal war between their respective countries. Let’s allow Israel and Iran to be symbolized by two cars playing chicken and while both drivers don’t want to face the other they are propelled towards each other by their countries powerful political machines. As they get closer and closer to the the last possible moment before an imminent collision one has to turn away….to safety. Unfortunately, if Israel or Iran lost it would have been considered a matter of National pride. Iran couldn’t afford to loose, and they were possibly protecting the Olympian in case he lost…since he wouldn’t have been able to swim at 100% while he’s sick.

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Spirit of the Game

When Plutarch wrote the play “Pericles”, in his mentor’s honor, he had the Olympics in mind: “When we study the acts of great men — rather than the great acts of men — we take fire from their understanding so that virtue burns and shines in our own life.”

It’s impossible for me to watch the Olympics without getting either A) misty-eyed or B) breaking into full-blown tears. I mean, even commercials about the Olympics make me cry sometimes. The Olympics provide a global stage for athletes to show the world what sacrifice, sheer determination and endurance can achieve. For me, it’s inspirational to watch Olympians compete, as it showcases the beauty of the human spirit demonstrating grace under pressure and the pursuit of excellence while everything is at stake.

The Ancient Greek Olympians competed for honor and were considered the pride of their city-states. There were no cash prizes or huge endorsement deals to earn, the glory they felt in competition lasted them a lifetime and they would return to their city-states as heros. The world has changed since Ancient Greece and while they are regarded as hometown heros they are now rewarded with hefty endorsement deals, magazine covers, and accolades that are magnified on an international scale. Then and now, Olympians compete as country ambassadors who send a message of hope to their audience. Except now, in our capitalistic society we reward achievements with the mighty dollar. Case in point, Michael Phelps will receive $1 million from Speedo if he breaks Mark Spitz’s 72′ record and earn 8 Gold Medals in a single Game. Because the Games have taken on a tradition of monetary gain to the winners rather than glory, I wonder if the spirit of the Games is actually in tact despite the commercials and syndicated news stories from CNN and NBC?

I still see the purpose of the Olympics in tact even though these world-class athletes come from different backgrounds and are separated by language barriers they’re united in the pursuit of their dreams and healthy competition. These Olympians are united in their respect for each other as teammates and competitors. 

For example, despite political turmoil in the Motherland, with Russia attempting to invade Georgia, Team Russia and Team Georgia competed in Woman’s Volleyball against each other, without a hitch as a sign of mutual respect….albeit the Georgian athletes were actually Georgian citizens that hailed from Brazil.

I’m in the process of searching for a particular Plutarch quote from Pericles that indicates you must never rejoice when you succeed against another whether in sport or etc., because it is their competition as an equal that propels you to succeed. Think of all the great rivalries that have spawned the World’s greatest athletes….Nadal vs. Federer, Ali vs. Frazer, McEnroe vs. Borg and the list goes on and on. Overall, without competition we would not perform at our best or recognize when we are performing at our worst. 

 

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