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What is behind the record-breaking spree at Water Cube?
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08:19, August 16, 2008

Beijing's futurist Water Cube has been a birthplace of new world records over the past week. With still two days to go, more than 20 world records have been bettered at the venue, exceeding the total marks set in both Athens and Sydney.

Swimmers started to smash world records in heats and more than 70 percent of the gold medals were won by swimmers swimming under the world record pace. Michael Phelps alone grabbed six golds with six new world records.

Along with the world marks, there were dozens of new Olympic records, continental records, national records and personal bests. Is there really something special with the Water Cube? Or does Speedo's revolutionary swimsuit propel swimmers go much faster?


"The pool is great. It's very bright here. The water temperature is awesome. It feels fast," Greek swimmer Apostolos Tagkarakis said after his first training at the Water Cube.

Tagkarakis's feeling is not unique. Almost all swimmers said they felt comfortable and excited in the pool and some directly called it a "fast pool".

What makes the swimmers feel fast in the pool? Among all the speculations, one assertion, which claims that the pool is deeper than normal, seemed to have convinced many.

"We had 2.5 (meters) in Omaha. FINA has now gone to 3 (meters). Swimming in a deeper pool allows you to go out faster. It doesn't beat you up like shallow water does," U.S. coach Eddie Reese said.

According to FINA regulation, the depth of a standard swimming pool ranges between two to three meters. The pool in the Water Cube is three-meter in depth.

However, the pool in the Water Cube is not the only one that reaches three meter. The pools used at the 2003 Barcelona world championships, at the Athens Olympics and at the 2007 Melbourne championships were all three meters deep.

Is it because of the water? Bulgarian Mihail Alexandrov said the water is "as smooth as honey".

The outside skin of the Water Cube is made of Teflon-like material. Composed of two layers, it's separated by an interior passage that allows the building, which seats 17,000, to breathe like a greenhouse. Designers said the venue absorbs solar radiation and reduces thermal loss, guarantees the incoming of most of the sunlight which serves as the thermal source of swimming pool water. The temperature of the swimming pool is projected to be kept at 28 degrees Celsius, the best suitable for swimmers. But except that, they did nothing special.

"The water is the same as other pools. I felt nothing different," Chinese swimmer Pang Jiaying, a bronze medalist in 200-meter freestyle, said, shrugging off the speculation.


Then it comes to the revolutionary bodysuit of Speedo, which has stirred enough hubbub ever since it was introduced to swimmers.

Since February this year, almost all the record-breaking feats were connected with the Speedo LZR Racer. The LZR suit, designed with help from U.S. space agency NASA, keeps swimmers in a corset-like grip which is said to allow the swimmer to maintain the best body position in the water for longer and reduce drag.

Some reports have credited it with reducing swimming times by up to 2 percent, although Speedo officials said that is impossible to verify. But many believe the advantages are as much psychological as physical.

"I think it might help. But all in all it is I that swam the race. If one doesn't have the capability, he will not swim fast no matter what he wears," said China's Pang, who wore a Speedo in the race.

Pang's view was shared by many athletes, including the brand's most phenomenal "spokesperson". "It helps me go faster. But of course, I also broke world record before I began to wear it," said Phelps.

Alan Thompson, Australia's head coach, indicated that Speedo's success largely relied on its outstanding marketing efforts. "The fact that Speedo has done such a good job that ensures they've signed up some of the world's greatest athletes to their brand probably ensures that they get the greatest exposure with the swimsuit," he said.

The coach said that the amount of focus that has been placed on the swimsuit has shifted public attentions on performances of the athletes. "Swimsuit technology advancement is something we've been doing since we wore full-length woolen suits in 1908. So...it's nothing new."


The "dancing" of world records at the Water Cube has shocked spectators, but not so much to the professionals.

"This is the Olympics. There was so much hard work, so much preparation and so much history behind each person, each gold, silver and bronze. Everyone is giving the best," said Australia's Libby Trickett, gold medalist in the women's 100-meter butterfly.

Before the Olympics, Australian head coach Thompson had predicted the Olympic swimming competition will be the fastest and toughest ever witnessed. "I said that about the world championships in Melbourne last year and I don't think it is going to be any different in Beijing," said Thompason.

Traditionally the major swimming superpowers at Olympic Games have been Australia and the United States, but Thompson cautioned that other nations are rapidly closing the gap. "The depth in world swimming these days is huge," said the coach in Kuala Lumpur before leading his team to Beijing.

"It won't be a two-horse race between Australia and the US. I mean you look at countries like Great Britain, Japan, the French, the South Africans, they perform very solidly. They've made changes from going to the semis to the finals to lower medals to gold medals. There's a major shift in world swimming," he said.

Chen Yunpeng, former head coach of the Chinese swimming team, agreed. Chen said the dazzling change in the swimming pool in recent year was a result of training innovation and the hard efforts of the athletes.

"Training regimes are upgrading so fast and people are focusing on details, like the dolphin kick. It's the training revolution and the hard work of athletes rather than Water Cube or swimsuit that produce so many world records," he said.


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