Even by the standard of the last two years, the 16 world records that fell Saturday and Sunday during the fourth FINA/Arena Swimming World Cup leg in Berlin qualified as an extraordinary total. The top three explanations, of course, are the suits, the suits, and the suits — the fact that Michael Phelps got kicked around in his textile jammer in Stockholm and Berlin certainly bears that out.
But an additional speed boost might be coming from the newest piece of technology on the pool deck: the long-awaited starting blocks with a sloped back, which formally debuted last week in Stockholm.
The blocks, which were approved by FINA before the 2008 Summer Games, were supposed to be unveiled at this summer’s world championships in Rome but were held back over concerns that not every nation had enough time to test them out. The blocks will be used at as many competitions as possible from this point forward, according to Christophe Berthaud, the General Manager of OMEGA Timing.
American Jessica Hardy, who has set four world records during the World Cup season, loves the new blocks, which were designed to mimic the starting blocks used on the track. Instead of leaping off of the blocks flat-footed, a swimmer can place one foot on the slanted part in the back to get a better push-off.
“I really like them because I don’t have a really powerful start,” Hardy said. “I’m not as flexible, so it really helps me get more power.”
Hardy said her hamstrings weren’t sufficiently flexible to muster a hard drive off of the traditional blocks.
She noted that the new blocks were tested during the U.S. Open in Federal Way, Wash., this past August. At that long-course meet, she set a pair of world records.
Most swimmers at the Stockholm World Cup, including Phelps, utilized the sloped back, although some planted their feet and used a traditional start.
The blocks were designed with state-of-the-art timing mechanisms for false-start detection, and acoustic enhancement to ensure each swimmer hears the starting buzzer at the same time, but of perhaps more interest in the sport today is the potential performance benefit they provide.
Berthaud noted that OMEGA engineers designed the slant to have a 90-degree angle with the knee to provide the maximum benefit.
“It should help the athletes to have better performances,” Berthaud said by phone from London last week. But unlike the suits, he noted, “this gives exactly the same advantage — if it gives any advantage at all. All of the competitors are on exactly the same level … competition will remain absolutely fair.”
Have thoughts on whether the blocks will make a difference or not? Go here.
Tags: Michael Phelps