Field Theory by Hadyn Green

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Field Theory: Frickin' LZRs

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  • Richard Norton,

    UK • Since Aug 2008 • 4 posts Report Reply

  • Richard Norton,

    Earlier this year I saw a seminar given by an Italian mathematician who was doing some modelling for swimsuit designers. The reduction in drag that was predicted by the model corresponded very well with the swimmer's (Italian woman, can't remember name) improved performance. The mathematician was quite surprised/proud of this. I can't remember what the time improvement was but it was significant (~1 sec I think). The advantage from these suits is very real.

    UK • Since Aug 2008 • 4 posts Report Reply

  • George Darroch,

    I'm a defender of the suits, actually. They're "only" about $500 in cost, which puts them within reach of anybody at the highly competitive end of swimming - if you're not at that end the improvement they offer is pretty marginal. Sure, they cost more than a $50 pair of speedos, but not much more. You might spend $1000 or more on the top end, but compare that to the cost of attending a meet and it's still very reasonable.

    I think you're discounting the improvements in performance that have come with better use of cameras and computer modelling in swimming, which has allowed swimmers to train every single part of their stroke to offer least drag and most performance. The US swim team now slide their hands into the water partly open, which reduces drag considerably. To say that the suits are responsible for all of the improvement is too much - some of it certainly.

    Do we by the same token discount Bolt's records because he had better shoes than those who came before? More technology is a good thing, as long as it is relatively accessible. These suits are.

    The People's Republic of … • Since Nov 2006 • 2119 posts Report Reply

  • George Darroch,

    The People's Republic of … • Since Nov 2006 • 2119 posts Report Reply

  • Keir Leslie,

    Do we by the same token discount Bolt's records because he had better shoes than those who came before?

    Bolt's shoes are not this much better, and I also think the discontinuity of change is quite important. It's one thing to be unable to compare Beckham to Best; quite another to be unable to compare Beckham to Messi.

    Since Jul 2008 • 1263 posts Report Reply

  • George Darroch,

    Is comparison important?

    The People's Republic of … • Since Nov 2006 • 2119 posts Report Reply

  • Logan O'Callahan,

    Who cares about records. The real problem is it made an inherently low cost sport vastly expensive.

    $100 bucks a year for some budgie smugglers, goggles and a razor became $500 per race.

    Since Apr 2008 • 70 posts Report Reply

  • Hadyn Green,

    I think you're discounting the improvements in performance that have come with better use of cameras and computer modelling in swimming, which has allowed swimmers to train every single part of their stroke to offer least drag and most performance

    You're right I am ignoring the extra science (though I have written about it before) as a contributing factor.

    But with all of those contributions, why also have a suit? Isn't it an artificial contribution (and the suits can take 1% off lap times according to the manufacturers). And if the only way you can become a world record holder is by wearing special suit, do you really deserve it?

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 2081 posts Report Reply

  • Keir Leslie,

    Is comparison important?

    Yeah, I think so. It's a sign that everyone's playing the same sport.

    Since Jul 2008 • 1263 posts Report Reply

  • George Darroch,

    And if the only way you can become a world record holder is by wearing a special suit, do you really deserve it?

    It's a sign that everyone's playing the same sport.

    I suppose I'm in a pro-technology mood today because I've been reading about the restrictions that the UCI has placed on competitive cycling technology, in an attempt to keep everyone on the same page. Unfortunately, it's held back the development of better bikes considerably. But this is a sport that lives through technology.

    Perhaps swimming stay a purist sport, with lycra and googles the only concession, interested only in the limits of human ability.

    The People's Republic of … • Since Nov 2006 • 2119 posts Report Reply

  • Logan O'Callahan,

    I'd be interested to know the particular restrictions in cycling. Eg: do they count out recumbent cycles or other unusual configurations.

    In lots of technology driven sports restrictive rules can actually lead to increased cost (to eek out the last fraction). But without them the race is won by the latest tech, not the athlete. This might drive forward technology, but destroys the athletic side of the sport.

    So if you're after an athletic sporting competition, you may as well keep it really low tech.

    You can always have a seperate technology driven side to the sport.

    Motorsport and sailing operate this way.

    Or else, let some other area of cycling (the recreational or transport side) drive the new technology. The sport can adopt it when it matures.

    Since Apr 2008 • 70 posts Report Reply

  • Keir Leslie,

    Unfortunately, it's held back the development of better bikes considerably

    But cycling isn't about bikes; it's about people.

    Cycling has been arbitrarily anti-technology since the invention of the internal combustion engine.

    Since Jul 2008 • 1263 posts Report Reply

  • JackElder,

    I'd be interested to know the particular restrictions in cycling. Eg: do they count out recumbent cycles or other unusual configurations.

    Yes, explicitly. UCI-legal cycles must conform to a number of criteria, among which is that they must be upright bicycles with a diamond frame configuration. The rules are also subject to change: Chris Boardman's time trial bike from the 90s was held to provide him with enough of an aerodynamic advantage that it lead to monocoque frames being banned in UCI competition. Of course, the UCI are also slightly notorious for banning some non-technological advances (Graham Obree's "Superman" riding position, which enabled a track rider to get an extremely aero position, was banned).

    The UCI regulations are notoriously specific. Everything, from the allowable angles of each element of the frame to the degree of aerodynamic shaping of the tubing on the frame, is clearly delineated. The UCI has had its boot on the throat of progress for some time.

    Or else, let some other area of cycling (the recreational or transport side) drive the new technology. The sport can adopt it when it matures.

    Well, that's an interesting point. One of the things the UCI enforces is a minimum weight for competition bikes (I recall this as being 6.8kg, but could be wrong). With recent advances in bike technology, it's now perfectly possible to buy an (extremely expensive) off the shelf bike too light for legal UCI competitive use. You could argue that the recreational side of things is indeed driving the technology onward, if you count "un or semi official competition" (say, weekend warriors rolling up to the line of the club 10k TT) as "recreational".

    [Keir Leslie]

    Cycling has been arbitrarily anti-technology since the invention of the internal combustion engine.

    This is so wrong I don't know where to start. Modern competitive cycling is insanely technological, whether offroad or on. Yes, of course it's about the people, but technology plays at least as much of a role as it does in most sport.

    Wellington • Since Mar 2008 • 708 posts Report Reply

  • Keir Leslie,

    Modern competitive cycling is insanely technological, whether offroad or on. Yes, of course it's about the people, but technology plays at least as much of a role as it does in most sport.

    Yeah, of course. But the point of cycling is that some technologies aren't allowed; you can exploit nutrition to the hilt, but you can't turn up with an engine.

    I mean, cycling uses technology and I wasn't denying that, but there's strict rules about which technologies, and have been as long as the sport has existed. And those restrictions are fundamental to the conception of cycling as a distinct activity.

    Since Jul 2008 • 1263 posts Report Reply

  • George Darroch,

    But the point of cycling is that some technologies aren't allowed; you can exploit nutrition to the hilt, but you can't turn up with an engine.

    No. That isn't the point of cycling. The point of cycling is that you turn up with a bike, you get on that bike, and then you race that bike from point A to point B.

    The People's Republic of … • Since Nov 2006 • 2119 posts Report Reply

  • Keir Leslie,

    The point of cycling is that certain technologies aren't allowed when going from A to B as fast as possible. I think that maintains my point that cycling isn't a sport about going fast, it is a sport about going fast according to rules.

    The constraints make the race interesting, and that's why I said (slightly imprecisely) that they're the point of cycling. Being upset that cycling isn't developing certain types of technology is like getting annoyed that running isn't producing better horses: cycling is a sport which isn't interested in some technologies, and that's why it is cycling and not Formula One. The UCI shouldn't be interested in developing technology*, it should be interested in developing cycling-as-a-sport.

    * Which is kind of an inexact term here as well.

    Since Jul 2008 • 1263 posts Report Reply

  • Joanna,

    In the end it could be that the only people to win the in the swimsuit wars were the perverts.

    So, all PA readers then? But really, if they're hiding more skin, there's less to perve at. Damn you, new suits!

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 723 posts Report Reply

  • Edward Siddle,

    the perception among sports followers (not necessarily swimming followers) when record-holders emerge from nowhere and are replaced only months later by similarly 'unknown' swimmers - the suits have enabled this scenario.

    this is i don't get. if everyone is using the suits, how come it affects some people more than others? or is it just that phelps is out of his top form right now and the true greats will reclaim the records in due course.

    If somehow it does affect some more than others though, then I think that it does seem to be 'technological doping'. Because that's the issue with other types of doping, such as in a sport like cycling - not everyone responds the same to the same dose of a drug like EPO. See for example a guy like raimondas rumsas who came from nowhere to get on the podium at (i think) the 2002 TDF. Or - more controversially, and watch out for his lawyers jumping on this site for me saying this - Lance Armstrong, who could hardly finish a tour de france before cancer, but post cancer enters and suddenly wins.

    So are the suits making racehorses out of donkeys, and working more for some than others? If it is a level playing field then I can't see why they can't be allowed (apart from arguments about historical comparability which may be valid).

    Wellington • Since Sep 2008 • 54 posts Report Reply

  • giovanni tiso,

    But really, if they're hiding more skin, there's less to perve at. Damn you, new suits!

    Oh, but now there is the tantalising prospect of the inevitable rips, and where they 're going to come from, as our friend Hadyn helpfully documented. I might take just take up watching swimming, whereas previously I found it so boring it made my eyes water.

    Wellington • Since Jun 2007 • 7320 posts Report Reply

  • Hadyn Green,

    this is i don't get. if everyone is using the suits,

    They aren't

    Things in swimming that effect everyone's performance: faster pools, better timing equipment, high-speed high-definition cameras. None of these are issues because they are changes to the environment in which the sport is run (or swum).

    To train using bio-mechanical computer simulations gives those with access to the best coaches an advantage. That's hardly new.

    But now there is a suit that, just by wearing it, you can place first instead of placing fourth. You could put everyone in the suit, or you could take everyone out of the suit. Removing the suit removes arguments about the validity of records

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 2081 posts Report Reply

  • uroskin,

    Swimming wardrobe malfunctions are not just for the boys to perve at.
    FINA should organise different kind of swimming events: one for technology (akin to the manufacturers' championship in F1 motorracing); old fashioned swim events in woollen suits so records can be compared over the centuries; and au naturel swim meets to boost TV viewership figures.

    Waiheke Island • Since Feb 2007 • 178 posts Report Reply

  • JackElder,

    I think that maintains my point that cycling isn't a sport about going fast, it is a sport about going fast according to rules.

    The constraints make the race interesting, and that's why I said (slightly imprecisely) that they're the point of cycling.

    Indeed, and I agree with you on this. Cycling is about getting from a to b (possibly via c d and e), cyclesport is about competing with certain agreed constraints. I guess that people moan about it a lot because the constraints are quite, well, constraining, but I think your basic point stands.

    In the same vein, you could argue that swimming is about mucking about in water, competitive swimming is about competing with certain agreed constraints. In that light, you could argue that the LZR (and the like) provide too much of an advantage (in the same sense as the justification for the UCI's ban on monocoque bicycle frames).

    But I sure as hell wouldn't want to be the person who had to write the rulebook on what constituted a competition-legal swimsuit. I'd imagine that you'd have to get very specific about the exact details of fabric, weave, reinforcement etc that were allowed; and even then, people will still try to game the system.

    As an aside - I am informed that these high-performance swimsuits are staggeringly uncomfortable and take half an hour to put on.

    Wellington • Since Mar 2008 • 708 posts Report Reply

  • Kyle Matthews,

    No. That isn't the point of cycling. The point of cycling is that you turn up with a bike, you get on that bike, and then you race that bike from point A to point B.

    Oh you poor innocent boy. If only it were so.

    this is i don't get. if everyone is using the suits, how come it affects some people more than others? or is it just that phelps is out of his top form right now and the true greats will reclaim the records in due course.

    Phelps stuck with his sponsor's (Speedo) which uses technology that is now a couple of years old. The new suits have pushed it even further ahead. They've been developed since the olympics.

    If Phelps had dumped his sponsor and bought one of the new suits he presumably would have done better.

    Since Nov 2006 • 6148 posts Report Reply

  • Heather W.,

    Maybe Phelps was just warming up. He has now won gold in a world record time.

    North Shore • Since Nov 2008 • 187 posts Report Reply

  • Kyle Matthews,

    Maybe Phelps was just warming up. He has now won gold in a world record time.

    After taking off his full body suit and swimming in a waist down version.

    Since Nov 2006 • 6148 posts Report Reply

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