Next time you see one of our Olympic swimmers competing spare a thought for their racing regime. Not only do they put hours and hours of practice in the pool each week, they also have to jam themselves into the tightest swimming costumes and swimming trunks around – known in the business appropriately enough as Jammers – in order to shave fractions of a second off their time.
And while Adidas is the official kit sponsor of the Olympic games, which is why the British swimmers are racing in red Adidas caps, most of the best swimmers in the world are kitted head to foot in Speedo Fastskin 3 Elite gear.
Comprising cap, goggles and swimsuit/Jammers, this kit has been designed as a complete package in order to reduce drag and improve speed. Indeed the whole kit and caboodle has more in common with the racing gear favoured by elite cyclists – though instead of aerodynamics we are of course talking hydrodynamics here.
Last week Speedo invited me and a few other lucky journalists to try out the latest Fastskin range at the Clissold Leisure Centre in Stoke Newington, just a few miles from the Aquatics Centre where the best in the world are competing in the London 2012 Olympic games. After a briefing with Jo Santry, Research Manager for Speedo Aqualab, it was time to get measured up.
The whole process was a bit like going to Savile Row to get a made to measure suit. However, thankfully getting the right size Jammers is a little simpler than the ladies’ Fastskin swimsuit, which involves taking a range of measurements depending on body length, bust, hips and waist. It was just my waist measurement that was needed for the Jammers although two head measurements were necessary for the cap (circumference around the head and the distance from ear to ear).
Unlike most swimming caps which feel quite flimsy, like they could tear in your hands, the Speedo Fastskin cap feels very sturdy indeed – you can hold it in the palm of your hand and it forms a round shape, like a sort of jelly mould.
Fastskin Goggles come in two varieties: the slimline Fastskin Elite Mirror and the chunkier Fastskin Super Elite Mirrors. I plumped for the chunkier Super Elites which I think look pretty cool, in an alien kind of way, though Speedo recommends that some swimmers wear the Elites, especially if they have quite high cheekbones. My son, who is 9, absolutely loves the Fastskin Elites which he races in as do most of the kids in his swimming club. Unlike some goggles they form a perfect seal around his eyes and don’t leak when diving.
After being kitted out with the all the gear the biggest challenge was squeezing into everything. I didn’t expect this to be so much of a problem but the 34inch Jammers I was supplied with felt really, really tight (apparently proper swimmers often squeeze into Jammers which are several sizes too small believing it helps make them more streamlined and therefore swim faster).
Whereas my usual Speedo Jammers are quite a lightweight material which stretches easily, the Fastskin3 Jammers are quite rigid especially around the waist, though they have different sections in the leg which offer much more movement. The result is that it takes about 15 minutes just to get them over your hips and into position a couple of inches below your belly button – I was virtually worn out by the end of the process.
They also need to be aligned correctly with your hip bones which is why there is a little yellow strip of material down each side (this can be removed if you so wish). Speedo also provides white gloves – like those used by a snooker referee – to help you get the Jammers into place but I must admit I didn’t use them. It all seemed a bit weird wearing white gloves to put your trunks on!
Thankfully the cap and goggles are much easier. The cap, although much thicker than I’m used to, is relatively straightforward to put on your head. The best technique is to hold it in the centre of your forehead and pull it right over your head to the back of you neck in one movement. You also need to ensure the mark on the centre of the cap aligns to the mark on the centre of the goggles for optimum performance.
If the Jammers felt uncomfortable on dry land it was a very different story in the water. Maybe it was psychological but I really did feel more streamlined when ploughing up and down the pool. Although extremely tight and constricting on poolside, I found there was much more give in the Fastskin3 Jammers in the water than my usual Jammers. What surprised me was that when I swam breaststroke (not a stroke I normally do) the Fastskin Jammers were surprisingly comfortable whereas in my standard Jammers it’s quite difficult swimming breaststroke.
The goggles and cap worked well too. The goggles didn’t fill with water even when diving off the side and formed a tight suction around my eyes. Speedo recommends that people with longish hair use the ‘hair management system’ (a fabric cap that sits underneath the main cap) and I found this kept the cap particularly smooth on the head.
So would I buy the complete Fastskin3 system? Probably not. But then I’m not an elite swimmer. Certainly I would wear the goggles and cap, both of which I think are great in terms of design and hydrodynamics. But the Jammers are very difficult to put on so are probably not ideal for an average swimmer like me who spends around an hour a day in the pool and who doesn’t race.
However, if I was one of the guys performing in the Olympic Games or even racing for a club then I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the whole kit and caboodle. Not only do you really look the part you could help shave vital hundredths, maybe even tenths of a second, off your time. At the very top level, this could be the difference between finishing with a gold or with a bronze.
In this YouTube video below, Speedo’s Joe Santry talks about the technology behind the latest Speedo Fastskin 3 range (sorry it’s a little dark):