The old-school Speedo has given way to the LZR Racer suit

By Casey Olson, The Mirror

By Casey Olson, The Mirror

I’ve never been to Rio de Janiero, Brazil. Probably because I’m super weird, but for some odd reason, when I picture the Brazilian beach city, one of the first things that comes to mind is the Speedo swimsuit.

The small piece of stretchable, Spandex-type material, which resembles a dude’s brief-style underwear, is most often worn by competitive swimmers — thank goodness.

But, there have been occasions that overweight, hairy, old men have been known to don a Speedo — much to the chagrin of everybody else on the beach.

There were no overweight, hairy old men Thursday at the Weyerhaeuser King County Aquatic Center for the opening day of the 2008 NCAA Division I Men’s Swimming and Diving Championships in Federal Way.

Far from it.

There also weren’t very many skin-tight, barely-there Speedos, much to my surprise. I came into the Aquatic Center thinking it would be like Rio de Janiero during Carnival. I expected the 235 swimmers who qualified for the prestigious event to be showing a lot more skin.

Because, I thought, nowhere else can men get away with sporting a very, very, very tight pair of shorts, as well as shaving their entire bodies. That’s just the way it is in the ultra-competitive world of swimming. The sport, without question, is one of the most grueling ever invented. You would think being in a huge pool of warm water would be very refreshing. Like during the summer months, nothing sounds more relaxing than jumping into a pool to cool off.

But after watching and hearing about the training regiment these elite-level college swimmers go through on a daily basis, I now have a new respect for them. A typical practice day during the season includes swimming a couple miles, as well as lifting weights and running.

So if anybody deserves to shave their bodies and wear Speedos, it’s these guys.

But they aren’t.

Most of the top athletes are now wearing bodysuits. The suits, which cover a swimmer’s legs and upper body, caused controversy from their genesis about a decade ago. Some argued the suits might break rules outlawing buoyancy. The international governing body for swimming gave the bodysuits the green light in 2000.

The newest craze in the bodysuit world is the brand-spanking new Speedo LZR Racer, a slick full-length swimsuit that boasts stabilizing supports to maintain body position, panels to give a streamlined shape and reduce drag, and a strong but light fabric to reduce muscle oscillation and skin vibration — Speedo’s words, not mine.

But there is no arguing that the new LZR suit is having an impact on the swimming world, and it’s the talk of the NCAA championships inside the King County Aquatic Center.

It seems like anytime an elite swimmer puts on this $550 bodysuit, records tumble. There have been 14 world records set since the middle of last month, and only one of the swimmers who set the record wasn’t wearing the new suit.

Speedo is not denying that the LZR Racer, which covers everything but the shoulder and arm areas, improves performance. Claims include a 5 percent cut in drag factor and also that compression elements somehow aid oxygen uptake by 5 percent. There is also the core stabilizer that acts like a corset in helping a swimmer maintain optimum position in the water.

As far as I know, there have been no claims like that about the “old-school” mini-Speedo, which covers only the “essentials.”

Massive sums of money are being poured into the technology of bodysuit development and top swimming officials are set to have talks with manufacturers next month after all the world records have been set.

Not only was the LZR Racer 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 — was approved by FINA, swimming’s international governing body.

The new suits also have my approval.

Sports editor Casey Olson: 925-5565,