Tuesday was marked by a disturbing revelation in the world of sports. Michael Phelps was shown to no longer be the fastest thing in water. He was seemingly dominated in the 200m freestyle at the World Swimming Championships by Paul Biedermann of Germany.
Not only did Biedermann defeat Phelps, he also erased one of his records, finishing the race in 1:42.00, almost an entire second faster than Phelps’ Olympic time.
So who exactly is Paul Biedermann?
The 22-year-old German holds two world records (200m freestyle and 400m freestyle), both of which he notched at these World Swimming Championships. He DID compete in the 2008 Olympics, also known as the Michael Phelps Games; however, he did not have much success.
Biedermann came in fifth in the 200m freestyle with a 1:46.00 time, two whole seconds slower than his time Tuesday. He also placed 17th overall in the 400m freestyle with a time of 3:48.03, EIGHT seconds slower than his new world record time.
Eight seconds. That’s a lot.
This begs the question—how?
The answer was his Arena X-Glide swimsuit—essentially the swimming equivalent of steroids.
The Arena X-Glide is made of a seemingly impermeable polyurethane and substantially more advanced than Phelps’ LZR Racer by Speedo. It has been banned beginning next year by FINA, the International Federation that governs swimming.
Biedermann admits that the suit impacted his swimming.
“I think the suit is problematic. I think the suits make us swim really fast. I honestly think it was worth about two seconds in this race. I really, really hope next year we can go back to the normal one, because it’s important for the sport. I think the suits destroy a little bit of the real sport. It’s not any more about technique; it’s not any more about good starts or turns; it is just, put this thing on and feel really, really fast in the water. I really believe all the new suits should be banned.”
It is impossible to tell if Biedermann would have beaten Phelps wearing an LZR Racer, just as it is impossible to tell if Mark McGwire or Barry Bonds would have hit more home runs than Albert Pujols without syringes. Swimming will tolerate these performance enhancers for another few months, and more records will likely fall.
However, times will likely rise slightly and plateau like MLB home run rates. We can only hope that this is the peak of swimming impurity and that Michael Phelps can regain his rightful title of Aquaman.