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The Rupp Report

The Rupp Report: Technical Textiles In Sports Politics

Jürg Rupp, Executive Editor

The 13th FINA World Championships for swimming in Rome just finished. An unbelievable number of more than 40 world records set a strange standard for future competitions. And, yes, technical textiles played a major part in this funny dance of records.

348 Possible Suits?
For years, swimming was a sport dominated by the United States. Names like Mark Spitz and Michael Phelps are known around the globe. But this situation has changed in the last few years. With the development since 2008 of new swimsuits -- or should one say, racing suits -- new world records have come with almost every competition -- more than 150 since 2008. From a humble swimsuit, the gear changed to high-tech suits, which are far away from the traditional swimwear made of knitted fabrics. Modern racing suits are more like a kind of full-body scuba diving equipment. The athlete is now in second place -- his efforts are not that important anymore. The one with the best-performing material is winning the game, and the new world records come automatically -- almost.

Unbelievable? Yes, but according to the list of the International Swimming Federation (FINA), and the FINA Commission in charge of swimwear approval, 348 swimsuits from 21 manufacturers were approved on May 18, 2009. Yes, 348.

Back To Swimming?
Just to give an idea of the specifications for a modern swimsuit, here are the main points, established by the FINA committee for swimming, to be taken into consideration. And, dear reader, don't forget, this is for a swimsuit and not for an airplane:
• surface covered;
• type of material;
• flexibility;
• regular flat material;
• outside application;
• thickness;
• buoyancy;
• construction;
• external stimulation or influence;
• consistency; and
• customization.

Back To Textiles!
However, some requirements belong to textiles and their ability to invest new fabrics:

First, the surface treatment of the fabric: "Any material added on to the surface of the textile fabric (e.g. coating, printing, impregnation) shall not close the original open mesh structure of the base textile fabric. The treated material shall further comply with all requirements in particular in regard to thickness, permeability and flexibility. This part of the rule does not apply to logos and labels. This applies to both the manufacturing level and the actual use of the swimsuit."

Secondly, the variety of materials: "Different materials may be used in one swimsuit provided they are textile fabrics as defined above and they comply with all other criteria including notably thickness and permeability to apply to total layers. Combination of materials shall further not create outstanding shape(s) or structure(s). Layered materials must be completely attached/bound/stuck together except where required to protect sensitive parts."

And last, but not least, permeability: "Material(s) used must have at any point a permeability value of more than 80 [liters per square meter per second]. Permeability values are measured on material with a standard multidirectional stretch of 25%. However, measure on material which cannot be significantly stretched will be effected on unstretched flattened material."

However, after the avalanche of world records set in Rome, the list of 348 different materials is now valid only until Dec. 31, 2009. And a FINA congress voted that "for men, the swimsuit shall not extend above the navel nor below the knee, and for women, shall not cover the neck, extend past the shoulder, nor extend below the knee."

What A Challenge!
What does this mean? It is the challenge for all clever fabric producers to show FINA that even sportswear is today a technical textile, and the proof that swimming is first of all a human sport and not a matter of a technical invention. Even some brand names are ready to go back: "We applaud FINA for finally banning these buoyant wetsuits which have cast a shadow over the competition." These words came from Craig Brommers, swimsuit maker Speedo's senior vice president of marketing. Speedo is on the list with many fabrics. "We do feel that a 100% textile-only body suit, as per 2007 world championships, would have been an appropriate solution. Despite that ruling we will now look forward to innovating within the FINA rules," he added.

Ok, lets go for it.

August 4, 2009