Ryan Lochte, an Olympic swimmer, said he felt like a superhero. Michael Phelps, who is expected to win multiple gold medals at the Beijing Games, said it was as if he were wearing a spacesuit. And this was after Phelps, promoting a slinky black unitard swimsuit, stood on a podium with his arms and legs splayed like Leonardo da Vinci’s “Vitruvian Man.”
It might have been a stretch to equate the latest, and supposedly fastest, swimsuit from Speedo, introduced at a news conference on Tuesday, to a Renaissance drawing that is considered to be the apotheosis of ideal proportions — a merger of science, art and nature. But then again, some people do get really excited about the slightest changes to the get-ups that swimmers wear at the Olympics.
Six months before the Games, in what has practically become a tradition among sportswear companies since full-length bodysuits revolutionized the look and speed of the sport at the 2000 Summer Olympics, Speedo staged its version of an “upfront” to introduce what the company is describing as “the world’s fastest swimsuit.”
It is in essence the same design as the world’s fastest swimsuit that Speedo introduced in 2004, only now it is made from fewer pieces (3 instead of 30). And the seams, rather than being sewn together, were ultrasonically welded. But more on that later. Phelps was still waxing poetically onstage.
“It literally feels like you are a rocket coming off the wall,” he said, describing the feeling of diving into a pool in Speedo’s new LZR Racer, which is pronounced Laser Racer. (The vowels would apparently have taken too much time to spell out.)
“The water completely runs off the suit,” he said.
Along with Phelps and Lochte, five other Olympic swimmers were on the stage in Midtown: Natalie Coughlin, Kate Ziegler, Dara Torres, Katie Hoff and Amanda Beard. They all stood silently in their suits like statues until Beard began to crack up. Four hours earlier, they had appeared even more awkward, seated on the set of NBC’s “Today” show, where the lights cut through their translucent suits like X-rays.
In the audience at the news conference was Harold Koda, the chief curator of the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He is planning a show next year of conceptual fashion designs that fit into a theme of superheroes. Koda said he had approached Speedo to borrow the suit worn by Olympic athletes in 2004, but was asked by the company to hold off until he saw its latest design.
“I was hoping to see more red,” he said. “We need more color.”
The new styles were either black on black or gray on gray, but the moody blue lighting in the room made it difficult to tell. As far as superheroes go, these would perhaps be best suited for Captain SeaWorld, the avenger of Flipper.
Speedo is also collaborating with the designer Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons on a more colorful version for the Olympics, presumably in red, white and blue, but those will not be revealed until shortly before the Games. A basic version was also made available for purchase on Tuesday on Speedo’s Web site, where advance orders were being taken for the $550 swimsuits, expected for delivery in May.
“It’s kind of fun to have something new to wear at each Olympics,” said Beard, who, after stepping off the podium, changed into a pair of Tavertini jeans that looked tighter than the swimsuit.
For anyone who is not an employee of NASA, as were some of the people who developed the suit, it may be difficult to comprehend the difference between the suit, made of a paper-thin nylon and Lycra blend, and a great pair of L’Eggs. The most significant advancement claimed by Speedo is that it has 10 percent less “passive drag” than its 2004 model.
Stu Isaac, a senior vice president of Speedo, said that drag refers to the resistance created by water rushing against the suit. In studies, the swimmers were lying passively in a flowing water flume. The new suit will be tested in competition this weekend at the Grand Prix series at the University of Missouri. The suit was streamlined by using fewer pieces and also by bonding its seams with heat created by ultrasonic waves — a process akin to getting a filling at the dentist — thereby eliminating ridges created by overlapping pieces of fabric.
Hoff said that the old suit had so many seams it left marks along her skin. “This is so smooth, it feels more flexible and comfortable,” she said.
Flat may be fast, but it can also seem a little dull, it was suggested to Torres, the fastest female swimmer in the United States.
“You think it looks dull?” she said. “We’re there to swim fast. We’re not there for a fashion show.”