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Discovery Magazine 5/1/2004

Leaving the Competition All Wet

by  Brad Harrub, Ph.D.

What does it take to win an Olympic medal in swimming competitions? Obviously training, dedication, a good diet, and a love for water are a necessity. But wearing a “sharkskin” suit doesn’t hurt either. In fact, at the Sydney Olympics in 2000, individuals wearing the new Speedo® Fastskin®—a suit designed to reduce the water’s drag on the swimmer—earned 28 of 33 Olympic gold medals! Overall swim times by those using Fastskin were improved by 7.5%. Talk about taking a bite out of the competition!

On March 9, 2004, Speedo launched the new bodysuit Fastskin FSII, which will be used by athletes in the summer Olympics in Athens.

Speedo picked the perfect model. Sharks are smooth swimmers and extremely fast. Researchers decided to take a close look at just how sharks were able to propel themselves through the water so quickly and with such ease. They discovered that real sharkskin is covered with very small tooth-like scales called denticles. These tiny V-shaped ridges reduce turbulence around the shark’s body, and reduce the amount of drag in the water. The Speedo Fastskin mimics the sharkskin with these special drag-reducing grooves. This special suit actually channels water along miniature grooves in the fabric. Fastskin is able to mold to the body like a second skin, and also helps increase coordination of muscles.

One drawback that re-searchers had to address came from swimmers who were not used to the change in “feel” of the water. Thus, in order to recreate that familiar feel, Speedo had to insert a panel of “gripper” material on the forearms of the sleeved suits. The end product not only “felt” right, it paid off—in a gold medal! This is just one example where man has borrowed a design from nature to improve on something. As far as swim-wear designs go, Fastskin is right at the top. And yet, God should receive the ultimate credit, for He was the One Who created sharks—the model for this new suit. We should all be thankful for the incredible designs He put all around us.



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