Emelie Fredriksson, AIPS/FINA Young Reporter, Sweden

World records were slaughtered and the high-tech 'shark skin' swimsuits were the new and controversial hot topic; the sport's credibility was at stake. Then, five years ago, the suits were banned and the FINA swimwear approval commission was set up."With our work today we will not be caught unprepared again," commission chairman Jan-Anders Manson told AIPS during the FINA World Aquatics Convention in Doha. The world of swimming was witness to steady record-setting before the 'shark skin' suits. But shortly after their introduction world records were being smashed by swimmers in new super costumes.

Top swimmers before the arrival of high-tech swimwear were having to face a new reality.

More than 130 world records was broken in 2008 and 2009 before the suits were banned by FINA at the start of 2010.

In 2009 Jan-Anders Manson, professor and director of the polymer and composite laboratory at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) was asked to review the rules and set up an approval system for swimwear. Hence, in 2010, a four-person FINA swimwear approval commission began work.


Individual effort must remain at the centre of the swimmers' performances - Photo credit: Giorgio Scala/Deepbluemedia

Once a year Manson meets the 38 different manufacturers, including Arena, Speedo and Nike to discuss how to be innovative but within the rules. This year's meeting was in Doha on Saturday, at the FINA World Aquatics Convention.

 

“To sit with them and discuss which direction we should take in the future is my funniest and most important job,” said Manson.

The Swedish professor thinks it important to give the manufacturers space to be innovative and not merely tell them what they cannot do - all the while expecting them to remain as sponsors within the aquatics world.

He said: "The worst thing that can happen is that they develop something and we say 'No.' That is a big waste of money. So the earlier in the process we tell them what we can accept, the better. Then they will dare to be innovative and take risks.”

Innovation in aquatic sports is important and an ongoing process. New solutions are constantly appearing on the market. Many consist of different combinations of materials, construction and compression sources.

For example, thigh muscle vibrations make swimmers lose speed, which means the seams location is crucial.

New restrictions make it hard to achieve a significant impact, especially for the short menswear.

Manson thinks that sensors on the swimsuit to register pulse, blood pressure etc could make news in the future. He also thinks an intriguing idea would be to project those numbers on the inside of swim goggles.

”Then you can easily see a connection between performance and how you feel”, he said.

“However, I think there is a long way before swimmers will be able see their lap times in their goggles. Today we can see this information on TV screens, but just like in cycling you have a lot of information that you cannot communicate. I think it primarily will be used in training.”

Manson has enormous experience in sports education and technology-related fields beyond FINA and is also involved in like cycling, taekwondo and fencing but his FINA work involves the greatest commitment.

Manson said: “FINA is handling the innovation process very professionally and is outstanding in its approach. When I work at the university I work with my brain. But when I work with FINA or IOC I use both my brain and my heart. Swimming has really grown on me”.