By Guest Contributor: Gabi Meisel
You’re on the blocks. You hear the crowd roaring. You fasten your goggles and get into that mental state of swimming fast. You look side to side. You see a ray of vibrant colors. Those are your competitors in their most elite, fastest suits, also known as tech suits. What are they?
Tech suits are lightweight fabrics that at the highest level repel water. They are able to reduce drag as well. Why do so many people love them though? Tech suits provide compression. This enables minimal lactic acid, which speeds up recovery after a long hard race. This compression also allows for a slicker (streamlined) movement through the water with less resistance. Swim companies such as Speedo, Arena, and TYR all produce tech suits. The question is, who are these companies targeting when it comes to selling tech suits? Are they targeting swimmers who are in the beginning stages of their teenage years? Are they just targeting swimmers who compete at the elite level?
Honestly, there is no clear answer. Coaches, swimmers, and parents all have different opinions when it comes to this.
“Why is she wearing that?! She is too young”, I remember my mom saying to my dad.
When I was twelve, I got my first kneeskin. It was a bright half pink half black speedo laser kneeskin. They had just become the new big thing and I was eager to get one. As a petite twelve year old, I didn’t realize that the suit hadn’t fit me properly. The smallest size then was a 20 for women’s. Diving in the water for the first time in my suit, I felt the buoyancy, slickness, and speed. I mentally was more confident than ever. More confident that I was going to swim fast with the help of my new suit. Although wearing the suit had an affect on the mental side, looking back, I now realize that this suit was more than I could handle as a twelve year old. For example taking care of the suit, by rinsing it in water, so it would last longer. Understanding the true benefits of this suit. This suit, may have helped me shave off a few tenths but in the end, as a twelve year old, wearing a racing suit, such as a fastskin had about the same effect as a tech suit. The line gets tricky when it comes to the age of when should an avid swimmer start the beginning stages of wearing their first tech suit.
Controversy lies within some of the fastest PVS athletes:
Phoebe Bacon, age 15, Olympic Trials qualifier, swims for Nation’s Capital remembers getting her first kneeskin for the Trials in 2016 when she was thirteen. She feels that 12 year olds should not be wearing these suits because they may not know which size to get and it may not fit them correctly. As Bacon remarks, “from experience I feel that I just figured out my correct size at about age 14 after I was able to wear them for almost 2 years.”
On the other hand,
Eli Fouts, age 17, Metros and NCSA Jr. Nationals champ says, “I got my first tech suit when I was 10 for zones, it was the TYR fusion.” He believes that the appropriate age a swimmer should start wearing these suits is when they qualify for a championship meet such as Jo’s or Holiday Invitational. Plus, they get the benefits of wearing a suit that makes “your legs feel stronger from the compression and feel hydrodynamic in the water.”
Catherine Belyakov, age 15 and Erica Hjelle, age 16 who both swim for RMSC in the National Training Group, say that they got their first kneeskin when they were almost 13 and they believe that it is an appropriate age swimmers should start getting tech suits. Both swimmers also mention, “it depends how hard and what level you train at and if your at that competitive level, but we don’t think ten year olds should wear them.”
Jacob Rosner, age 16, an RMSC swimmer and top 5 in PVS in the 500 freestyle, believes in having fun with the sport before you bring out the suit. The tech suit can be seen as a sign of competitiveness and commitment to the one and only sport, swimming. Rosner notes, “I think at around late 13 or 14 is when someone should get a suit. When you’re 12 you should still be having fun with the sport and hopefully other sports as well, so you don’t want to be putting all your cards into one sport so early on.”
Will Tenpas, age 17, swims for Nation’s Capital, believes that waiting is a huge benefit. Tenpas reveals “that [he] was 14 when he got [his] first tech suit and was one of the last of [his] friends to get one. [He] definitely thinks it helped [him] more when [he] was older and able to understand how expensive these suits were and made them special to [him].”
As Speedo, TYR, Arena, and more swim companies continue to manufacture and produce these compression suites, what do you feel is the right age? Do you think FINA needs to pass new regulations on ages swimmers are allowed to wear tech suits? Think about this: Why do you care what happens to the future of swimmers wearing tech suits? Why does this matter?
Note from the editors: USA Swimming hired outside consulting firm, Isaac Sports Group, to review various policies on tech suit use in age group swimming and recently SwimSwam made the report available online: USAS Age Group Committee favors banning tech suits for 12 & Unders. Our guest contributor provided her perspective without knowledge of the USA Swimming report, we provided the link for broader context on the issue.