5 Reasons Today's Olympic Swimmers Are Breaking So Many World Records


For some reason, every swim event in the 2008 Summer Olympics is a record-smasher. And it isn't just Michael Phelps who's seconds ahead of that daunting green world record line. Curious what's making this year's athletes so much faster? Here are 5 possible answers.

1. Pool Depth

Olympics Previews - Day -7
A scene from the 2008 Summer Olympics / Shaun Botterill/GettyImages

The pool in Beijing, known as the "Water Cube," is 3 meters deep, instead of the previous depth of 2 meters. This allows swimmers to dive deeper and continue their push off "dolphin kicks" for a longer period of time. Olympic medalist and commentator Rowdy Gaines says, "It's just deep enough to where the waves dissipate (and) the turbulence dissipates down to the bottom."

2. Empty Pool Lanes

There are ten lanes in the Water Cube, instead of the usual eight, leaving the outside lanes open. This reduces turbulence and enables swimmers to go faster. "It's by far the fastest pool in the world," Gaines says.

3. More Time to Practice

Mark Spitz
Mark Spitz / Jerry Cooke/GettyImages

Sponsorship for swimming has increased massively, which allows athletes to practice more. Mark Spitz, the Olympic swimmer with the most gold medals before Phelps, retired at 22 due to his inability to make a living as an amateur athlete. Back then, the Olympics only allowed amateur athletes to compete. Phelps, on the other hand, is now 23 has an estimated annual earnings of $5 million, and will be awarded an extra $1 million dollar bonus from Speedo if he reaches or beats Spitz's record.

4. Old-Fashioned Doping

Gary Hall Jr., previous Olympian 50-m freestyle champion, has been very vocal about his belief that the use of performance-enhancing drugs is an issue in swimming. "Can suit technology distract from another issue?... I'm telling you this, I train with an international group of swimmers and all of them have stories and a few of them have had offers." Hall likens today's "blame it on the suit" situation to that of the '76 East German women's Olympic swimming team.

Hall is passionate about his convictions, but one of the very few people to assert that it is an issue in swimming. “I abhor doping," he said. "It drives me crazy. I just don’t know how to fight it. What bothers me most about it is the resignation of a lot of the public that it’s part of sport today.”

5. The Secret Benefits of Math

Professor Timothy Wei helped develop top-secret, state-of-the-art equipment and mathematical techniques that USA Swimming coaches have been using to help to make swimmers go faster. He uses water flow diagnostic technologies to see how each swimmers' motion affects the flow of water.