11 world records in the first 2 days of the swimming world championships in Rome. This occurred on the back of 25 world records and 65 Olympic records in Beijing last summer. In any other sport we would be extolling the virtues of the athletes, their determination, their training methods or their sheer commitment. Instead we look to the materials engineers at Jaked, Arena or Speedo and feel compelled to congratulate them on their polyurethane composites. While I do appreciate the work they do, and generally will where technological advancement is concerned, the brand you are sponsored by is now equally important as how fast you can swim and that is where the problem lies.
FINA is the sport’s governing body and as such sets the rules for competition. Instead of, and I will use a motorsport analogy here, an Indycar environment where the rules of the car are very strict with little room for manoeuvre and racing is dependent upon the skill of the driver we have a Formula 1 scenario. Where last year’s world champion, bar last weekend, is struggling to find the podium and a guy who has been the very definition of mediocrity in the past few seasons wins the first half dozen races. Paul Biedermann beat Michael Phelps’ 200m freestyle record by nearly a second, he’s knocked 4 seconds off his personal best in 11 months a feat that took Phelps 5 years. These examples are down to the technology around them and not the athlete in the car or suit.
FINA has some difficult decisions to make. They can let the technological fight continue and with it continue the loss of reputation the sport is suffering. They can change the rules to end the suit supremecy race as it stands where all the records made are kept and all swimmers (who are sponsored or can afford £300 for a suit) can fight it out going forward. Or finally they can strip all records since this started and reignite the purity of the sport, bring back the excitement of the finals where, as in track sprint events, athletes build up through the heats to peak in the final and potentially need to break a record to overcome their opponent. The alternative is to have 2 world records fall in the heats and have those who’ve trained equally hard in the years leading up to an event have no hope because the guy/girl in the lane next to them has better threads. Get a grip FINA.