There’s a battle going on behind the scenes of the world’s swimming elite, and it’s not Michael Phelps versus Ryan Lochte or Brendan Hansen versus Kosuke Kitajima.
It’s a battle that seems possibly more fit for the red carpet because recently who you are wearing has become quite a topic of conversation. This puts suit manufacturers, including, Speedo, Arena and TYR, at the center of the debate and leaves them with a lot to lose, but even more to gain heading into the summer.
Earlier this year, Arena unveiled their newest swimsuit, the Powerskin Carbon-Pro, which will be worn by a list of elite swimmers that include Rebecca Soni, Eric Shanteau and Brazilian sprinter Cesar Cielo. This means remarkable exposure for the brand, but also tremendous expectations from their athletes that the equipment they are wearing is the fastest in the world.
Leading up to the 2008 Olympic Games, Speedo created the most buzz around their “LZR Racer” suit which had polyurethane (an impermeable and buoyant material) panels that may have contributed to the 23 world records that were broken in Beijing by athletes wearing the suit. But in 2009, Arena’s entirely polyurethane full-body “X-Glide” suit stole the spotlight, proving faster than the LZR. The tech-suit age climaxed with 43 world records being broken at the 2009 World Championships, and then fell just as quickly as FINA banned the full-body suits and the polyurethane material by the end of the year. Now it is jammers for men, and suits ending at the knees for women.
We had a chance to try on the Arena Powerskin Carbon-Pro jammer to see how the Italian-based company has adjusted to the new regulations while still keeping their athletes happy. Having already tried the Speedo FS3, we were interested comparing Arena’s approach to the trifecta “racing system” put together by Speedo.
At first look, it appeared Arena opted on a fairly simple approach in constructing the Carbon-Pro, reminiscent of the light-weight paper-thin texture used before polyurethane. But while the material is thin, the fit is very tight, and the emphasis is on muscle compression as an athlete tires in a race. Arena trumpets that the carbon-fiber fabric they use “offers unprecedented compression.” That translates to a very secure but not uncomfortable feel; that is, after spending 10-20 minutes tugging and pulling to get the suit up above your waist.
In the water you feel the lift in your hips and quads, and notice that the material is light and water repellent. This is different from the Speedo suit, which probably does do a better job of keeping your hips in place with its “stability web,” but at times feels a bit bulky and absorbs water, causing some swimmers to second-guess its effectiveness.
While Speedo earns points for innovation, Arena earns points for familiarity. The Carbon-Pro has a nice smooth feel to it that doesn’t take much getting used to. The importance of the familiar cannot be overstated, especially if you are in the finals of the 200m freestyle with an Olympic gold medal on the line.
While the Arena suit is not going to be the deciding factor that earns an athlete gold in London, it certainly should not cost anyone a tenth or even a hundredth of a second either. Armed with the new Carbon-Pro suit, it would seem any athlete supporting Arena should have all the comfort and confidence they need to let their swimming speak for itself.