What are you wearing? That’s the big question at this summer’s international swim meets. Huge advances in swimwear in the past 18 months are creating havoc in the swimming world. The big story at last year’s Olympics was the Speedo full-body LZR Racer swimsuit. But that was really last year’s news. New polyurethane suits have raised the stakes, and now will be banned along with the LZR and other full-bodied suits.
The solution? Textiles. New rules will stipulate the length of suits and also require the use of “textiles”.
OK, but what are textiles?
According to Wikipedia, a textile is “a flexible material consisting of a network of natural or artificial fibers.” So polyurethane is OK after all? Maybe the issue is a “network” of fibers. After all, the polyurethane swimsuits are not woven. They have a smooth surface like a wetsuit. Because they are impermeable they are said to improve buoyancy. They also certainly reduce friction.
A story titled “THE SCIENCE BEHIND THE SWIMSUIT WAR” is promising. But it states that polyurethane cannot be used as a textile. That’s clearly incorrect.
Maybe the issue is “stitching”. One of the problematic swimsuits is the Jaked J01, which uses a thermal welding process to attach pieces of polyurethane to together to eliminate seams. That clearly creates an advantage, but should it be banned?
Surely the issue can’t be polyurethane. There’s no technical information available on the type of polyurethane being used. And the big materials’ players are quiet on the subject, and probably had little, if any, involvement. TPU is usually in the news for its ability to complement other materials as an overmolding. Other polymeric materials could also provide beneficial properties for swimsuits. So why the focus on polyurethane, or polymers for that matter? Will polymers also be banned from running shoes or other equipment used in track and field? Of for protective gear in other competitive sports?
None of this really makes much sense. If the goal is to try to give swimming back to the swimmers, that sounds admirable. But there must be a better way.