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How Easy Is It to Break World Records in Swimming?

It's said that records are made to be broken, but when they're Olympic records, you might expect it to be pretty difficult. That didn't seem to be the case at the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing, when swimmers set records in waves, finally culminating with a stunning 25 new marks -- which doesn't even include records that were broken only to be broken again during the same competition. As impressive as the performances were, the Olympic governing body saw something in the water that didn't exactly float its boat: fast suits. Advanced technology allowed swimwear manufacturers to create new gear that drastically cut down drag, helped increase speed, and repel water. The Fédération Internationale de Natation (FINA) wasn't so pleased, and it banned the use of the full-body suits before the 2012 Olympics in London. Suddenly, records were still standing at the end of the Games. As for previous records set with the fast suits, FINA decided to let all 40 of them stand -- perhaps for a long time to come.

Getting into the swim of things:

  • Olympic swimmers who shave their bodies not only reduce drag, but also gain water sensitivity, allowing them to adjust in the pool as they compete.

  • Olympic-size pools hold 660,000 gallons of water, or the equivalent of 9,400 typical bathtubs.

  • American swimmer Michael Phelps is the most decorated Olympian in history, with 28 medals, 23 of which are gold.

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