Thursday, March 25, 2010

Age group swimmers, NCAA swimmers & European swimmers: I am doing some research and I need your help!

Prior to the “suit wars” in early 2008 when tech suits were summarily endorsed by athletes, coaches and the national governing bodies, were you an early adopter of this new technology?

If you were an early adopter of tech suits, which suit did you purchase first and what was the number one reason that inspired you select that brand over all others?

Why am I asking this question? There is a saying in advertising and marketing that goes like this: "You sell the sizzle and not the steak" and I want to know what you bought into: "sizzle" or "steak."

When tech suits came out there was a lot of "sizzle" being sold. You saw Michael Phelps on a "movie set" from "Lost in Space" along with editorial that included both "NASA" and "ultrasonic welding" to help paint a technological future.

On the flip-side, or a company who was selling the "steak" rather than the "sizzle" was, blueseventy, who talked about neoprene and compression.

Other examples of selling the "steak" could be all the WRs or endorsements the suit had. If you were an early adopter, which did you buy into, the "sizzle" or the "steak?"

There is nothing wrong with buying into the "sizzle", I do it all the time when I buy a book because of its cover. I do so because I want to believe and sometimes a "paper moon" or a good "fairytale" can truly inspire a person. That is why my first tech suit was a NIKE Hydra; which wasn't very good compared to the others, but I still haven't been able to top a personal best I set in it in the 50-LCM Free with it.

Placebo effect, baby!

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hey Tony:

Finally..I have been waiting for a post like this forever. The "sizzle" was a perfect storm of marketing a new suit, helped out by a couple of timely world records...and let the hysteria begin.

Looking at the all times from last weeks Women's NCAA meet, with swimmers that swam last year probably in a LZR and this year in a textile suit, slightly slower. But all that talk about records lasting for 20 years, or two sets of records??? Like I said earlier "A Perfect Storm"

Anonymous said...

Not sure about age groupers but the suits are distributed by teams at the NCAA level and this is usually part of an endorsement contract with the college team. Before 2009, any swimmer at the national level could wear a competition suit for free (again, this is usually a contract with the club team). When Arena, Jaked, etc entered the market then the free suits seemed to stop at the USA Swimming Championship meets.

As for womens suits, its hard to believe that the textile suits are much slower than the last generation. It seems what matters most is compression over most of the body.

Anonymous said...

It's not really compression at all. The suits addressed the wave and pressure drag. And its having the upper body covered that keeps the flow attached, thus reducing the drag. So the women's configuration really didn't change. It's the men's configuration (not being covered) that really changed.

At lower levels of swimming where someones body might not be perfect, like an elite swimmer, there could be some re-shaping of the hull..if that's what your mean by compression.

There are no metabolic benefits/returns..if that's what you meant by compression.

Tony Austin said...

You sound very educated on tech suits but it seems that nobody wants to answer the question why somebody bought their first tech suit.

Anonymous said...

Yes, that's right, the tight suit reshapes the hull. But it also keeps things from moving around. A little bit of flab on the butt or stomach is very deformable, especially at high speed (like when we push off the wall). This will cause flow separation.

Not every elite swimmer is necessarily well shaped. There are some swimmers who are at a disadvantage because they are too muscular. Also, not all elite swimmers have very lean bodies. Those who are more muscular and those who are less lean seem to benefit more from the suits than those who are both lean and skinny. The suit compensates the larger swimmer by allowing less vibration of the body (muscle and fat) and therefore less flow separtaion.

As for the question at hand, though, to be truly competitive you need to everything you can (hopefully within the rules) to win. When technology comes into the equation, you need the best. Any swimmer who was not wearing Jaked or Arena in 2009 was, in my opinion, at a disadvantage.

Anonymous said...

The reason no one will answer you question is because basically swimming has never been a decision based sport, it has always been a "copy cat" sport.

And that is why all the hysteria about these tech suits had such a profound effect on the sport. The basic lack of knowledge about the effects of reduced drag on swimming performance had most of our "swimming experts" scrambling for answers that they really didn't have when questioned by the media. So when someone did a better time in a "newer/different" suit, everyone scrambled to get into that suit because it was "better".

Tony Austin said...

You write very. What about the Placebo effect?

Tony Austin said...

So, swimmer endorsement are very important to say the least.

Who are you? Your comments are very insightful, why are you posting anon?

Anonymous said...

Tony:

I am posting because I am a big fan, and really believe there are few places where the truth about this swimsuit technology is really being posted. Your investigative reporting about many of the “behind the scenes” happenings could not be found anywhere else, and not being afraid to take on the “experts”, or digging deeper than conventional thinking is very refreshing.

Anon posted: “Those who are more muscular and those who are less lean seem to benefit more from the suits than those who are both lean and skinny. The suit compensates the larger swimmer by allowing less vibration of the body (muscle and fat) and therefore less flow separation.”

Basic body composition can certainly affect the potential to perform. However, if your definition of “larger” swimmers means “fat”, again, at the elite level that’s really not a concern. At lower levels of swimming, it could give a particular swimmer a different potential performance enhancement, but nothing that can take the average swimmer to elite via a swimsuit. Individual analysis of many of the big meets here in the US this year have shown there were plenty of swimmers that improved their position over last year using a textile suit. Last year, they would have been accused of getting an advantage because the tech suit gave them an unfair performance effect, because they weren’t elite up to that point. The swimmer that won the 50 free last night at the Men’s NCAA Championships from the Univ. of Cincinnati is a perfect example. If this were last year, it would have been the suit that beat Nathan Adrian…right??

Anon posted: “As for the question at hand, though, to be truly competitive you need to everything you can (hopefully within the rules) to win. When technology comes into the equation, you need the best. Any swimmer who was not wearing Jaked or Arena in 2009 was, in my opinion, at a disadvantage.”

The statement here really exhibits the “copy cat” hysteria I described in a previous post. As soon as one elite swimmer posted a good time wearing any two of the suits you described above, everyone started to jump. And that was due to a total lack of knowledge about effects of drag on swimming performance. All of the suit companies above claimed from between 3 to 5% improvement in performance times. If you really look at individual times from elite swimmers, the real mean/average rate of improvement was barely half that. Business people know from year to year, week to week, what the difference is sales are from the previous year, (measure of performance of the company) but most swimming coaches don’t have any idea what the “rate of improvement” of their swimmers are year to year, so the marketing plan played right into that lack of knowledge.

What about the Placebo effect?

Tony, placebo effect is always in play, with anything perceived new and can never be disregarded. This was a “perfect storm” of marketing, and a few timely world records that got all this started. As an example: In the women’s 50 freestyle from NCAA’s last week, for competitors that swam in a tech suit last year, and a textile suit this year, the difference in time for almost all the competitors was a couple of hundredths of a second difference on average per swimmer, between the two suit configurations.

So, swimmer endorsement are very important to say the least.

This is really outside my field, but endorsements really help keep some of these great athletes stay in the sport longer. Only my opinion at this point, but prize money has made swimming faster during the season more important, (making a living) and I believe this was a major factor that helped with the onslaught of records we saw last year. It’s pretty clear that these mature athletes competing into their late 20’s, can continue to get even faster, and the names become more mainstream into the sports media, which I think is critical into growing the visibility of the sport.

Erik Sterne said...

Hi Tony,
In response to the question:
I was forced to go with the original Fastskin back in the day. I felt that I needed to use the suit because everyone else in my heat was wearing them. I remember the great Jenny Thompson calling the suits swimming girdles. The B70 looks like a casing or tube on some competitors. I dislike it very much.

Anonymous said...

Wow...did that guy school everyone up or what????

Tony Austin said...

I don't know who schooled who for you all have the same name: Anonymous. I just know that all the people who wrote anonymously and not really schooled me.

OK, so do any of you know someone who bought a LZR because of Schubert's 2% claim?

KSE said...

Way back when I swam age group [okay only 7 years ago], the aquablade was the standard. I didn't own one, however, because my parents figured they were spending too much on pool/coaches/meet fees and they shouldn't have to shell out more money on some new-fangled expensive suit. I wore a random tyr suit, and guess what, I was still able to beat people wearing the most expensive suits out there.

Moving on . . . In college, we wore the fastskin I, II, and TYR tracer light. For nationals I wore the fastskin II. Mostly because it came in this silver color that I thought was cool. To answer your question, I wore these suits because (i) they were free; (ii) I had to; and (iii) I thought, in my mind and perhaps in part truth, that the lighter fabric and "compression zones" made me feel lighter in the water. Note: I practiced in polyester suits with at least one drag suit over it.

I am indifferent, at best, about techsuits. There is no doubt in my mind that I would have swam as well as I did in college with or without the aid of some super-light-fast-drying-shark-skin-textured-body-compressing suit. Sure they may make some people faster and help them break world records, but why would you want a suit to do that for you? It may be exciting to see all of these world records shatter over and over again, but you know what else is exciting? Seeing people break those records the old fashioned way, even if it does take a couple of years for it to happen.

Anonymous said...

I have never believed any of the percentage claims. They are grossly exaggerated and the effect is not the same for everyone.

Think of it this way: Michael Phelps 400 IM time from Beiging was 403.8 = 243.8 seconds. Assume the suits help 2% this would mean that his time in a "regular suit" is 248.7 = 408.7 meaning that he got slower from 2004 to 2008--a ridiculous claim.

The suits do help, but I agree that they are largely a placebo effect. Still, even at the highest levels, swimmers have different body types and help some more than others.

Seeing is believing and the suits helped the swimming world break through mental barriers. Now we have guys breaking 19 in the 50 free in jammers. 10 years ago that was unthinkable, but now in order to be at the top you know can be done and what must be done.

I never bought a suit because of some claim. In some ways, anon is right about it being a copycat thing. If I were trying to make a national team or set a record in 2009, then I would have splurged on a Jaked or Arena. Using another suit would have been like not giving it my all. I know that these were the fastest suits (by a little, not a lot) because the best swimmers wore them and continued to break records in them--even risking voiding their contracts.

Anonymous said...

I have never believed any of the percentage claims. They are grossly exaggerated and the effect is not the same for everyone.

Think of it this way: Michael Phelps 400 IM time from Beiging was 403.8 = 243.8 seconds. Assume the suits help 2% this would mean that his time in a "regular suit" is 248.7 = 408.7 meaning that he got slower from 2004 to 2008--a ridiculous claim.

The suits do help, but I agree that they are largely a placebo effect. Still, even at the highest levels, swimmers have different body types and help some more than others.

Seeing is believing and the suits helped the swimming world break through mental barriers. Now we have guys breaking 19 in the 50 free in jammers. 10 years ago that was unthinkable, but now in order to be at the top you know can be done and what must be done.

I never bought a suit because of some claim. In some ways, anon is right about it being a copycat thing. If I were trying to make a national team or set a record in 2009, then I would have splurged on a Jaked or Arena. Using another suit would have been like not giving it my all. I know that these were the fastest suits (by a little, not a lot) because the best swimmers wore them and continued to break records in them--even risking voiding their contracts.

The Screaming Viking! said...

I am just glad that all of those people who have been thinking about getting into a career of fighting crime can get their costumes at a huge discount now that the whole tech suit mess is over. :)

I agree that is was the perfect storm of marketing. I disagree that there are no metabolic returns. I have had many swimmers say that their legs just don't get as tired... and I said the same thing after wearing my fs1. there is something to compression beyond just reducing drag. Lance Armstrong swears by his compression tape. That is not about form drag. His claims seem to be more related to energy systems and fatigue.
To answer the big question, Tony... I never bought a suit more advanced than an fs1 for myself, but I am not an active swimmer. My female athlete who bought an fs-pro, did so because I took an underwater video and saw in slo-mo the amount of rippling of the skin and muscle during her underwater fly kicks and decided that covering the thighs with anything was a good move. The pro seemed to be a better choice than a fs1 or 2 because it seemed to allow less of that by the nature of the fabric.
we wished we could get a LZR or another of the super-tech suits, just because everyone else had them. :)
hype does go a long way.