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Rocket Fuel Inflames Suit Debate

Nov 8, 2008  - Craig Lord

FINA has opted to dive deeper into the mire on fast swim suits by approving a garment called The Rocket Skin. The suit is made by Rocket Science Sports of Texas and claims to do things that clearly make the suit a performance-enhancing device. 

You can take a look at some of the products of the group here: www.rocketsciencesports.com, including garments that boast of boosting buoyancy. The company enters the pool swim suit market with these words: "Rocket Science Sports, the leader in technology driven triathlon and multisport gear and apparel has just established their spot at the top of the food chain in swim competition by having the first long sleeved, full body swim skin approved by FINA".

The food chain? A new shark enters the pond. There will be more of this in the months and years ahead and we can only assume that FINA, having opened the door to a new world of technology in the sport, one that changes the very nature of swimming, knows what is coming its way in the months and years ahead. Sports gear makers who would not have looked towards pool water in the past are now turning their gaze to a sport which is in its infancy in terms of what could be achieved in a world in which the governing body is happy to approve garments that serve as devices and enhance performance.

The complexities of the rules needed to govern the differences in suits, their properties and effects on performance are clearly beyond the ken of FINA, as demonstrated by the woeful ignorance shown on the subject in the past year. The International Swimming Federation formed in 1908 to serve as guardian and standardiser of swimming, a body which charged itself with the task of striving to provide common conditions under which all could compete, now runs serious risk of losing control of its own sport. If those who run the sport do not understand the technology driving performances, how can they possibly be trusted to write meaningful rules?

The answer is - they cannot be trusted to do so, which is why they have forfeited their own right to do so by handing the responsibility of formulating frameworks of approval and the wording of such over to suit makers this year.

"The Rocket Skin™ is the newest and most advanced product in a succession of specially coated, low drag swim skins made by various companies which have chalked up numerous performance records in the past year including the Beijing Olympics," says the maker of the latest fast suit, which will retail at an average $399 a pop. 

Marcin Sochacki, founder of Rocket Science Sports and aerospace engineer/designer explains: "What sets our swim skin apart from anything seen before are several unique features to solve the issues that plagued other designs. The first is the material thickness. We are using the thinnest and most stretchy 0.3mm fabric on the market which is coated with super low drag Yamamoto SCS coating and allows for better fit, less heat buildup and the freedom of movement expected by pure swimmers.

"Because we now have the stretch and most freedom of movement we were able to cover the shoulders and arms with the Yamamoto SCS coating which has 50 times less drag than the human skin. This makes our suit 40% more efficient in the water than other sleeveless models. The difference in glide stroke is especially amazing." 

“The Rocket Skin™ has already been used in triathlons for non-wetsuit legal races and we have seen performance advantages of up to 6 seconds per 100 meters and 1500 meter races done in 87 degree water with no issues of overheating,” Marcin continues,

“The last two barriers we have addressed are that of lifespan/durability and potential buildup of water inside the suit in longer events. Because of its amazing durability our Rocket Skin™ is covered by a one-year warranty. During design we heard of other full body suits having water buildup issues so I designed a panel which allows the body’s natural movement to pump out any excess water that may build up at longer distances.”

The Rocket Skin™ is expected to be available at the beginning of February, 2009 and will be made in 3 versions including long sleeve with welded construction, a stitched long sleeve and a sleeveless model. 

The maker of the suit, Rocket Science Sports, boasts that its products, the very core of its business is "based upon detailed scientific research and the application of engineering concepts. Products are specifically designed to maximize aero and hydro dynamics, durability, efficiency...". 

There will be much more of that to come and those governing swimming are now leading the sport into a world of asterisks and ifs and buts where comparison from one generation of swimmer (or suit) cannot be compared to another. Science and technology has never before led the international federation by the nose in the way that it is doing right now. 

At a time when the two most successful nations in swimming are considering ways - and finding them - to restrict use of bodysuits, the sensible thing for FINA to have done would have been to call for a moratorium on suit approval so that sensible debate can ensue. The question is: do either of the two men vying for the Presidency of FINA next summer - Mustapha Larfaoui and Julio Maglione - care two hoots about where beyond their time the technological race is leading the sport they are supposed to be guardians of? Or is their interest in the sport purely political? Will at least one of them step forward and show that they care about the direction the sport they govern - at least in title for now - is heading? What unfolds over the coming months will answer those questions.