Speedo Innovation

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Speedo innovation:
Swimwear companies have invested millions designing high-performance suits for the upcoming Beijing Olympics. Can design help swimmers finish faster?
Following the 2004 Athens Olympics, officials at swimwear giant Speedo had good reason to celebrate: Athletes clad in their latest suits at the time, called Fastskin FSII, won 46 medals in the pool. Yet when the company 's in-house design team, Aqualab, gathered soon after the games at company headquarters in Nottingham, Britain, they were already focused on how to innovate the next generation.
"We looked at all the suits and the competition and what was good and bad," recalls Jason Rance, worldwide head of Aqualab. Four years later, after a multimillion-dollar research
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Speedo 's Fastskin, introduced in 2000, replicated a shark 's skin.
Olympic Hopefuls
Several manufacturers are chasing one another to introduce engineered pool gear for the Beijing games. Arena 's new suit is called the R-Evolution, while Adidas unveiled the TechFit Powerweb, as well as a suit designed specifically for breaststroke swimmers. Meanwhile, Huntington Beach (Calif.)-based TYR, a unit of Swimwear Anywhere, launched the Tracer Light and Tracer Rise as their Olympic hopefuls.
At TYR, the development of new suits centered on creating a lighter-weight fabric that doesn 't leak or take on water, using a woven rather than a knitted fabric, after TYR 's researchers found that knitted fabrics drop moisture between fibers. A polyurethane coating was added to create a smoother surface, and compression panels reduce muscle undulation.
One difference with Speedo 's LZR is that TYR 's new model—which will retail for between $80 and $350—has stayed with stitched seams. The advantage of stitching, argues Jeremy Tongish, TYR 's merchandising director, is that it holds the fabric around the compression panels more effectively, which means a firmer grip on the muscles and therefore greater energy return. "If [athletes] squeeze themselves into a tighter suit with bonded seams, it exerts a lot of force on the fabric," he says, implying that sewn suits will be longer-lasting and tighter-fitting.
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