Michael Phelps, the greatest
U.S. shows pool dominance at Water
Photo taken on the night of Aug. 2, 2008
shows the figure "2008" displayed on the exterior of the National Aquatics
Center, nicknamed ¡°Water Cube¡± in Beijing, capital of China. (Xinhua
By Xinhua swimming writer Chang Ai-ling
BEIJING, Aug. 15 (Xinhua) -- 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
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?
A diver practises at National Aquatics
Center, nicknamed the "Water Cube" in Beijing, capital of China, Aug. 6,
2008. (Xinhua Photo)
"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.
Rebecca Adlington of Great Britain waves
during the final of women's 800m freestyle at the Beijing 2008 Olympic
Games in the National Aquatics Center, also known as the Water Cube in
Beijing, China, Aug. 16, 2008. Rebecca Adlington won the gold medal in a
new world record with 8 minutes 14.10 seconds. (Xinhua/Chen Kai)
Then it comes to the revolutionary bodysuit of
Speedo, which has stirred enough hubbub ever since it was introduced to
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
"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."
Michael Phelps of the United States
swims during a heat of the men's 400m individual medley at the Beijing
2008 Olympic Games in the National Aquatics Center, also known as the
Water Cube in Beijing, China, Aug. 9, 2008. Phelps set a new Olympic
record in the event with 4 minutes 7.82 seconds. (Xinhua/Fei
TRAINING & HARD
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
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
"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
"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.