Technology and Sports: The Transformation of Swimming

The sport of competitive swimming is pretty straightforward. If you swim faster and touch the wall sooner than everyone else, you win. Easy, right? Well, perhaps there is a bit more to the story.


With the help of new technologies and better equipment, our understanding of the science of swimming is growing, and the sport is becoming increasingly granular – and faster – as a result.


Analysis of data points from the pool is helping swimmers better understand and hone their craft. This new understanding has also inspired a new array of textiles and training hardware and software for the sport. Now humans are churning and sliding through the water faster than ever before. In fact, on this list of swimming world records, none were set before 2008.




While the list of specific swimming innovations could fill a book, they can all pretty much be broken down into three categories: Materials, analysis & training, and environment.



In the early 19th century, modesty, not speed, was the chief concern behind swimsuit design. Suits were typically woolen and covered the entire body. This changed at the 1924 Olympics when English swimmers started using expensive silk suits that were faster than their predecessor. This kicked off an arms race with teams trying to find better materials to give them an edge.


Fast forward to the 2008 Olympics and the widespread use of the new full-body Speedo LZR suit. Designed in collaboration with NASA, the suit was developed by using extensive 3D scanning of elite athletes from around the world. The texture of the polyurethane-based fabric was based on shark scales, modeled to reduce drag and trap air to increase buoyancy. During the next two years, over 130 world records were broken. This inspired calls of “technological doping” that gave swimmers from developed economies unfair advantages. The issue became so apparent that, in 2010, FINA introduced new rules that limited the coverage of the suits and outlawed the use of polyurethane panels.


Today, teams continue to develop new materials and suit designs to help them break new records and land gold medals. There will surely be continued innovation, and regulation, around materials.


Analysis and Training

Thanks to new technologies and the insights they’ve uncovered, we now have a better understanding of the mechanics behind competitive swimming and the swimmer’s form. Every aspect of a swimmer’s stroke can be carefully observed in 3D and adjusted for maximum efficiency. This means more effective personalized training for competitive swimmers, but also new swim-monitoring and instructional technology offerings for professionals and hobbyists alike.


With new tools to measure and track performance, and apps devoted to connecting swimmers to coaches around the world, these new technologies are opening the sport to regions where it hasn’t been feasible before.


This accessibility means a bigger pool (no pun intended) of talent to draw from, faster times in the water, and an overall better sport for everyone.



The environment the swimmers race in can have a huge effect on how fast they move through the water, and that begins and ends with the design of the pool they are racing in. Waves from each swimmer’s strokes, kicks, turns, and dives reverberate through the pool and bounce off of each other creating harder-to-navigate turbulence. That turbulence can add precious microseconds to a swimmer’s time.


To address the environmental challenge and make the sport faster and more fun for competitors and fans, newly-designed “fast pools” were introduced in the 2012 London Olympics. Through pool gutters, spinning lane markers, and an adjustable depth that eats up energy before it can bounce off the bottom, these pools were engineered to absorb or dissipate turbulence.


Ultimately, it’s the simplicity of the sport that makes every minute detail so important.


We are seeing almost every other major sport going through a similar transformation. It’s a fascinating subject that we’ll be sure to keep our eye on.


by hoowei
on ‎04-11-2017 08:03 PM

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