Thursday, June 24, 2010

Careful with that Wetsuit

You might need to rethink wearing your wetsuit during triathlon. Come 2013, the wetsuit you've been using might not make the cut for legal use in competition. Not because its warmth factor is ahead of the pack, but because its thickness can possibly help you move to the front of the pack.

USA Triathlon, the governing body for the sport of triathlon, recently announced that beginning in 2013 it would disqualify anyone using a wetsuit thicker than five-millimeters from competition in a USAT-sanctioned event. It found research that showed athletes received a marked advantage over the field by wearing wetsuits laden with the latest technological advancements. While some age-groupers might appreciate the added aid, they won't be able to use those wetsuit technologies that have been found to add even more buoyancy in the water. Why? Because they reduce passive drag and can help the athlete cut through the water at a faster pace while expending less energy.

So much for technology advancements in sports--or rather, using those advancements. Remember the LZR Racer swimsuit that was all the rage in the pool at the 2008 Beijing Olympics (and all the records smashed at the U.S. Olympic Trials and the Games)? Banned from the pool in part because the full-length suits make human skin far faster, their NASA wind tunnel-tested fabric designed to repel water, reduce drag, create better oxygen flow through the muscles and hold the body higher in the water. That went into effect in January. Then the World Triathlon Corporation banned the speed suits popularized in triathlons where the water temperature is too warm to wear wetsuits (i.e. Hawaii's World Championship). Well, actually, they specified that swimwear needed to be made of a textile material, no rubber, and needs to only go so far as the knee and shoulder, otherwise it's considered a wetsuit. Well, sort of. That's my interpretation after reading the why's and why not's for the acceptance of Xterra's Velocity suit in USAT-sanctioned and WTC-sanctioned events. If you see a sale on speed suits, you know why.

For the most part, this doesn't really change much on the wetsuit front. Take Xterra's priciest model, the $695 Vendetta. It's labeled as the "most technologically advanced" wetsuit on the market, yet it still meets the requirements for competition. And usually expensive price tags--if I'm thinking in bike mode--mean more top-of-the-line goods. Carbon frame, race wheels (Zipp, HED), components. But that's for another discussion. Maybe. I might be opening a whole new can of worms with that one. Photo grabbed from Ben Lawson at flickr

Note: The LZR Racer link sends you to the newly designed Speedo suit that meets the FINA regulations. For a picture of the suit used at the 2008 Olympics, click here.

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