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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Athletes to Sport Space-Age Suits in Sydney




SYDNEY, Australia -- Don't be surprised if the competitors at this September's Sydney Olympics look more like aliens than elite athletes.


Among some competitors, the conventional brief trunks worn by swimmers will be replaced by bodysuits, while the plain old shorts and singlets worn by runners of yesteryear will give way to full-length outfits fitted with hoods and gloves.


Don't be fooled into thinking these radical shapes and colors are part of some sort of bizarre fashion statement. The new dress craze has nothing to do with looking good, but rather is just the latest chapter in the never-ending search for the elusive edge that will capture a gold medal or world record.


As previous Olympics have shown, hard work and natural talent are rarely enough to win gold. Medals are won not just by the competitors but also by those men in white suits, the sports scientists.


While recent Olympics have seen the introduction of a series of innovations to equipment, Sydney's legacy will be to showcase the latest in sports clothing and the most visible of all those changes will be the outfits worn by the top swimmers and runners.


The introduction of full-length bodysuits has already caused some major ripples in the conservative world of swimming.


The sport's international governing body, FINA, has approved the use of neck-to-ankle suits despite complaints from opponents that they provide buoyancy and take the sex appeal out of the sport. The dispute has become known as Baywatch vs. Stopwatch.


The new suits are designed to provide water resistance and reduce drag. The manufacturers claim the suits can improve times by up to 3 percent and point to a host of world records that have already been set by swimmers wearing them.


Australian teenager Ian Thorpe has set world records in both 200- and 400- meter freestyle in the suits and says he has virtually no problems with them.


"The majority of people are wearing them and I didn't expect that," he said.


"The only issues that arise are in the changing rooms. Who is going to zip you up f the guys aren't used to doing it."


Not all the swimmers are in favor of them, however. Russian freestyle sprinter Alexander Popov has already said he won't wear them at Sydney when he attempts to become the first male swimmer in history to win the same event at three Olympics.


"I've tried several different makes and I just didn't like any of them. So I'll stick to my old pair of trunks," he said.


The Olympic glamour sport of track and field is also preparing to unveil a whole new look at Sydney with the introduction of space-age suits that are designed to do everything except tie shoelaces.


The tight-fitting lycra suits include hoods to reduce wind resistance and even meshed gloves. Not only do their manufacturers boast that they improve times but also that they help protect muscles and keep the body temperature cool.


Marion Jones, the American sprinter bidding for a record five gold medals in Sydney, is already a fan of the new kit: "When you get into the suit and it is so sleek and smooth, it seems like you are going to cut through the wind, through the air," she gushed.


Not every innovation in Sydney will be restricted to clothing. Competitors in sports where streamlined clothing would have little impact have also been aided by the men in white suits.


Kayakers at Sydney will be seen wearing goggles. Not because they are worried about getting their eyes wet but because the goggles, developed by the Australian Institute of Sport, have a built-in sensor showing them their vital statistics, including heart-rate data and work rates.


Even sports like rowing have introduced new technological instruments that could prove the difference between winning and losing. Rowers in Sydney will use oars with sensors that measure the force each competitor is exerting on the water, enabling coaches to plot the weak link in a boat or identify where anindividual's timing is out.


While most sports are embracing the latest in technology, others are placing restrictions on change.


Cycling, which entered the space race decades ago with lightweight bikes, lycra suits and shell-shaped skull caps, is cutting back on the newest innovations with standard rules applying to bikes and riders.