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Streamline Debate

DW staff (dfm)December 19, 2008

Former German swim star Michael Gross has entered the debate over streamline racing suits, which have led to a flood of world records, by calling on his sport to return to using basic equipment.

Michael Phelps, center, wearing a Speedo racing suit
New racing suits utilize cutting-edge technologyImage: picture-alliance/dpa

"It has become a technology battle which even overshadows the doping debate. That is a wrong turn for the sport," Gross told German news agency DPA. "Swimming is risking maneuvering itself on to the sidelines."

Gross called for a return to "swim shorts and suits" or at least for a standard suit to be used by all athletes.

At the heart of the debate are hi-tech racing suits manufactured by swimwear makers such as Adidas and Speedo.

The suits are made from an ultra-lightweight fabric designed to minimize drag, repel water and reduce muscle oscillation and skin vibration.

Some suits even come equipped with an internal core stabilizer to hold the swimmer in a corset-like grip to maintain the best body position in the water.

Suits reap records

US President George Bush, left, and swimmer Michael Phelps
Streamline racing suits helped propel Michael Phelps to a record medal haul in BeijingImage: AP

Gross won three Olympic gold medals and five world titles in his career in the 1980s -- long before such bodysuits were introduced.

"I am glad that we didn't have this discussion during my days. But the worst thing is that the kick is slowly gone for the swimmers as well, the motto being 'I can try whatever I want, it is the suit that wins.'"

New racing suits released this year led to more than 100 world records. Swimming reached a milestone at the Beijing Olympics when American Michael Phelps won an unprecedented eight gold medals at one Games for an all-time record of 14 golds.

Last weekend, German swimmers protested against their allegedly inferior equipment which prompted equipment makers Adidas to cancel a sponsorship deal with the nation's swim federation.