Aquatic Body Armor
Full-body suits add speed, draw stares
By Marian Jones
Full-body swimsuits, the new shoulder-to-ankle racewear making a splash at this week's Olympic swimming trials in Indianapolis, are supposed to feel like a second skin.
Will you feel more fishlike? This reporter says yes.
But while they may shave split seconds off swimmers' times, they feel like Lycra pajamas.
FOXNews.com jumped into the pool in both the Arena Powerskin and the Adidas full-body suit to try out the gear options for the serious swimmer.
Speedo, maker of the Fastskin, had given all of its suits to Olympic hopefuls, so we had to go on their product literature. But in the Adidas full-body suit, air pockets bubbled up near the back, and it was bunchy around the wrists and ankles. Lumbering hippopotamus or gliding human Jetski? Definitely the former.
People stared. What sort of odd bird would work out in a wet suit?
Its insulation takes a bite out of those first few laps, especially for the one-toe-at-a-time crowd. Perhaps this is because the suit "helps improve micro blood circulation and reduce muscle vibration."
Even this mere mortal felt like an Olympian in the Adidas suit.
The official product literature also said the suit is made of DuPont Lycra, with Teflon treatment a good thing to know, in case we want to cook an omelet on it someday.
All this high-tech talk is part of the heated competition going on between swimsuit makers Speedo, Adidas, TYR, Arena and Victor to become the identified "brand of champions" in the Olympics this fall.
Speedo claims its Fastskin, made of "new fabric with revolutionary design features," will improve swimmers' performance by as much as 3 percent. The new fabric is made of superstretch fiber with built-in ridges that imitate shark skin and make for more Jaws-like gliding.
Other makers have their own twists. Arena asserts its Powerskin is over 30 percent lighter than regular swimwear and absorbs 15 percent less moisture. Arena's Web site touts its "zero friction resistance," "minimum water absorption" and "ultralight material."
But unlike the others, Arena suits do not cover the arms or back. Full-body designs can create air bubbles, especially in female swimmers, so Arena left the top of the suit looking somewhat like a traditional one, explained company president Bill Bettencourt.
After peeling off the full-body Adidas suit, it was time for a spin in the Arena Powerskin. The fabric, so light it felt tearable, was so snug we almost gave up trying to put it on. This is what USA breaststroker Kristy Kowal meant when she told an AP reporter, "It's like putting on nylons, only 10 times worse."
The Powerskin is supersnug.
During a flip-turn, we got an idea of what the fuss was about. The swimmer is noticeably lighter and warmer in the water.
Just to make sure we weren't being brainwashed by all the Arena product literature, we got out of the pool a second time and changed into a trusty low-tech, sleeveless, legless swimsuit.
Yes, it felt comfortably familiar. But once in the water, gone was that extra oomph and heat.
The suits "are not going to make you an Olympic swimmer unless you have these skills already," Joseph R. Noel, a physical therapist at World Champions Sports Medicine Center in Tampa, Fla., warned earlier. He was right.
So for your ordinary middle-aged gogglehead who's struggling to find enough time to get in the water rather than shave off water time, it's hard to make a case for wearing one of the new suits. They're hard to get and expensive, with a price tag between $100 and $300.
But then again, when plenty of ordinary folks with no particular need for speed are willing to fork out for a fast sports car or a Tour-de-France-quality bike, why not take the aquatic version for a spin? One thing is guaranteed: It will definitely get you noticed.