The Fashion Of Speed

Like other areas of fashion, swimsuits have evolved in recent years. Not just to keep up with style, but to, well, keep up.

High-tech training methods means racing times have gradually improved.

But suddenly, last month, 18 world records were broken in just one meet.

Fast has gotten faster … by design.

It seems the swimsuits themselves have achieved superstar status.

Jessica Hardy broke two of those records wearing a full-bodied outfit.

"There has always been a racing suit that is faster than other suits, but there has not been a suit as fast as this year," she told CBS News technology correspondent Daniel Sieberg.

Peter Marshall knows races are measured in tiny fractions of a second. He holds the second fastest world record for the 50 meter backstroke.

"Is this a radical redesign in the swimsuit world?" Sieberg asked.

"It definitely is," Marshall said. "It's a more hydrodynamic-like material than the suits before, so it helps with just speed throughout the race."

Marshall's outfit is by Tyr; Hardy's is by Speedo. Kate Wilton oversees Speedo's racing model.

(AP Photo/Paul Thomas)
She said that compared to the suits, human skin is flawed, while Speedo's suit helps reduce drag.

Two-time Olympian Steve Furniss knows not only how it used to be, but how things have changed. He's executive vice president of Tyr. Looking at what swimmers like Furniss wore back in the Seventies, "Less was better. We saw how little we could wear actually. And that was quite a bit different than today."

Tyr's done its own testing, and like Speedo's, swimmers stay higher in the water and save energy.

"Swimmers want something that's lightweight," Furniss said. "They want something as high compression, that really compresses their body mass."

The suit is even water proof.

"How much of it is the suit and how much of it is a mental thing where you know you're wearing something that can make you go faster?" Sieberg asked. "Is it a little bit psychosomatic?"

"You know, in those races that are decided by 1/100s of a second, if there's some psychological advantage to wearing it, you know, bring it on!" Marshalls aid. "I'll take it!"

Hardy said her best time is more than two percent faster, and credits the suit: "I do not think there is a limit to how much it can help you improve."

Oh, yeah, a reporter's reminder: If you think simply donning the new suits will make you a speedier swimmer … you're all wet. Take it from one who's tried.