Our pornographic future in space.
Never mind that backstroker Kirsty Coventry of Zimbabwe barely had time to wedge her body into the new, ultra-tightfitting swimsuit or to test the suit in warmups, let alone race conditions.
Coventry, a gold medalist in the 2004 Olympic Games, hit the water that day and smashed a world record that had stood for 16 years, swimming the 200-meter backstroke in 2:06.39, which was 0.23 second faster than the storied mark.
The new swimsuit? Speedo's LZR Racer.
That modest meet last month in Columbia, Mo., began an unprecedented -- and controversial -- six weeks that turned competitive swimming upside down: 14 world records set as of Wednesday, 13 in the LZR suit.
What does this suit look like? Well, it looks pretty spiffy but it doesn't have built-in propellors or anything:
The main, and humorous, issue to this suit is the one that my unnamed source pointed out to me: they leave perhaps too little to the imagination. Or, to paraphrase Robin Williams, this is a swimsuit so tight you can tell what religion a man is. Striking a blow for gender equality, on the other hand, the women appear to be in the same boat. Perhaps not the outcome I expected but, given that women have long been expected to wedge themselves into absurdly tight swimsuits, this is at least equally absurd for both sexes. Rah rah.
Leaving that aside, however, these suits were apparently developed with the assistance of NASA. Don't get too excited, though, as that assistance seems to have been fairly minor:
Not only was this suit designed with help from NASA and its wind tunnels, but Speedo made sure that each step of the development process, including ultrasonically bonded seams -- no thread and needle here -- was approved by FINA, swimming's international governing body.
Nonetheless, this reminds me of something from my science fictional roots: the skinsuit. You see, when most people think "spacesuit" they think of the awkward, bulky monstrosities that our astronauts wear. Essentially a modern day suit of armor that encapsulates a human being in a very small semi-flexible spacecraft. Yet, this is not the only way to protect a person in space. An alternative approach is the space activity suit or "skinsuit" that uses a tight form-fitting garment to reinforce the structural strength of human skin. The result, given temperature control apparatus, is a much more flexible and possibly comfortable approach to extra-vehicular activity. By now I'm sure you see where I'm going with this: the new speedo swimsuits remind me of nothing so much as a skinsuit.
And if that wasn't enough to get your blood pumping, it turns out that research into the skinsuit design has been renewed and we may someday see astronauts venturing forth in these types of protective garments. An advance for astronauts? Hell yes- such suits would be better for long-duration spacewalks and safer besides. An advance for NASA public relations? Also yes! What could drum up support for the space program again like sleek and stylish EVA attire?
I have no opinions about what this means for swimming, but I'm excited about the potential for space travel. Soon we may not only be able to live and work in space more safely and comfortably, but also harness the power of sex appeal. I mean, shit, if dressing our astronauts like pornstars doesn't revive interest in the space program I don't know what will.
Can't hurt, right?