Olympic Inflation

William Saletan in Slate:

Can we please stop fussing over every new Olympic record?

A new record means that an athlete using today’s equipment outperformed an athlete using yesterday’s equipment. It’s not a fair fight.

In swimming alone, today’s advantages include:

080813_hn_phelpstn1. LZR Racer suit. It reduces friction (compared with skin) and is structurally designed to compress and streamline the body for maximum speed. Estimated drag reduction: 5 percent to 10 percent. Estimated average improvement in top swimmers’ best times: 2 percent. Designed by NASA scientists and computers, among others. Cost: $500.

2. Pool depth. This is the deepest pool ever used in the Olympics. Depth disperses turbulence, reducing resistance.

3. Pool width and gutters. Two extra lanes at the margins disperse waves to gutters, reducing ricochet and resistance.

4. Lane dividers. The plastic ones in Beijing deflect turbulence down instead of sideways, reducing resistance.

5. Starting blocks. Nonskid versions have replaced the old wooden ones, boosting dive propulsion.

6. Video. Recordings and analysis identify target variables such as stroke distance and turns.

7. Medical tests. Swimmers are blood-tested after each race to measure lactic-acid buildup.

8. Sports scientists. They run the monitoring and analysis. The U.S. swim team has four.

More here.