Last year, a time of 1 minute 22 seconds would have qualified an 11-to-12-year-old female swimmer for the Gold Championships. This year, however, the time has been reduced to 1 minute 16 seconds. Are humans getting faster? Why is there such a drastic change in times over only a year? Although a swimmer’s training is an important factor in reducing swim times, there are also external factors that play a large role in helping humans to swim faster, such as swimwear and pool design.
Swimming has played an important role both leisurely and functionally for people throughout history and all over the world. Over the centuries swimwear has evolved from the early days of cotton and wool, which grew heavy and cumbersome when wet. New materials such as nylon polyester, spandex polyurethane, and neoprene have been invented. These materials create a snug fit that decreases the swimmer’s drag in the water and mimics the smooth skin of sharks and dolphins. It may seem unfair that certain swimmers could have faster times merely because they have a better swimsuit, but the new technology in swimsuits has caused this.
Not only does the design of the swimsuit influence the swimmer’s times, but pool design also plays an important role in decreasing swim times. Most pools have both a deep end and a shallow end, but studies prove that deep water has fewer waves and turbulence, making it easier to swim faster. Also, wider swim lanes reduce the effect of the swimmers on one another. Lane lines help prevent splash-back off the walls, which affect the speed of the swimmer. All of these advances allow swimmers to swim faster, meaning the qualifying times for the more competitive meets have been lowered.
The major influence on a swimmer’s time is the amount of training and effort they put into their sport, but modern technology is beginning to have a greater effect on swim times not only for professionals and Olympic swimmers, but also for children as young as 10 and 12. Now we are looking ahead, wondering what they will invent next.