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Michael Phelps's Loss and Swimming's Suit Problems

ROME - JULY 28:  Michael Phelps of United States competes in the Men's 200m Butterfly Semi Final during the 13th FINA World Championships at the Stadio del Nuoto on July 28, 2009 in Rome, Italy.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
Rachel ScallContributor INovember 30, 2016

On the cover of every newspaper I’ve seen today is a picture of Michael Phelps looking shocked and dejected after having just finished second to Germany’s Paul Biedermann in the 200-meter freestyle.

Biedermann didn’t just out-touch Phelps at the wall—he smashed Phelps’s world record by 0.96 seconds.

Some may have seen Phelps's reaction to the loss (if you can call coming in second at a World Championship event a loss) as him being a sore loser. Phelps’s attempt to get away from the medal stand as quickly as possible, only to be ushered back into place by photographers, does not exactly scream sportsmanship.

But behind Phelps's actions, and his feeling about the race, lies a problem that goes beyond the winningest Olympian of all time. New technologies being applied to swimsuits have the competitors, coaches, officials, and fans of an entire sport up in arms.

As technology progresses, more and more swimmers are diving off the starting blocks in suits that practically do some of the swimming for them.

Biedermann, who was wearing an Arena X-Glide bodysuit when he beat Phelps in the 200-meter freestyle in Rome, admitted the suit shaved up to two seconds off his time—an eternity in the pool. In the past year, over 100 world records have been broken by swimmers wearing technologically-enhanced racing suits.

Some may not think this is a problem. After all, isn't every sport somehow affected by technological advances? Football has become a sport reliant on sideline technology, and hockey sticks are definitely not the flat pieces of wood they once were.

But it is not as if basketball players are wearing shoes with springs in them, or baseball players are suddenly allowed to use corked bats.

Technological advances in swimsuits are a serious problem for the sport.

When Phelps took on the X-Glide, he lost. Swimming should not be a competition between human beings and technology.

FINA has approved a ban, starting in 2010, on the technology being used to create these super-suits—and for good reason. When technology can skew a sport to the point that a certain make of bathing suit wins against talent and drive, what is left of the sport?

Of course, it is said that every cloud has its silver lining. New suit technologies are causing a huge problem in the world of swimming—and the world of Michael Phelps—but people are actually talking about swimming, and the Olympics are still a few years away.

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