By now, nearly everyone's heard about Michael Phelps's Olympic medal quest. But for those of us who have watched the swimming competitions thus far, there's one competitor you just can't ignore: those black and gray, space-age looking suits that nearly every athlete is wearing.
The wetsuit-style Speedo LZR Racer (here's a pic) is one reason world records continue to be broken in swimming. The science behind the suit includes "ultrasonically welded" seams and panels of drag-reducing fabric tested by NASA. But the main benefit of the suit is how it fits: tightly. So tightly that it acts as a sort of corset, helping swimmers maintain an aqua-dynamic form and supporting abdominal muscles when they tire at the end of the race. Since the suit was introduced in February of 2008, more than 50 world records have been broken by athletes wearing it. American swimmer Ryan Lochte, who won a bronze this week in the individual medley, said wearing the suit makes it feel like you're "swimming downhill." Even Chinese athletes cannot resist the American-made suit, though they covered the Speedo logo with duct tape.