A to Z of the Olympics (well S,T,V) – Observer.

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S is for Speedo and the swimsuit war.

Speedo’s LZR Racer has lived up to billing as ‘the world’s fastest swim suit’ - athletes wearing the hi-tech outfit have set 38 new world records (out of 42) since its February launch. Chaos has followed: sponsorship contracts have been broken, coaches have complained of ‘technological doping’, and Speedo’s rivals have rushed to create their own competitive outfits in time for Beijing. Here are the major players.

Speedo LZR Racer. The new benchmark in swimsuit technology, with a ‘compression zone’ around the torso that counters muscle vibration, Speedo’s is the suit to beat. See it on Michael Phelps, among others.

Arena R-evolution+. The Italian firm’s new seamless suit has calmed the fears of France’s 400m Olympic champion Laure Manaudou, who burst into tears after losing to a Speedo-clad rival in April.

Mizuno Swim. So unpopular with the Japanese team that they have been allowed to break their contract and choose their own suits; 100m breaststroke champ Kosuke Kitajima went straight to Speedo.

Adidas. Members of the Adidas-sponsored German team - which includes Britta Steffen - begged to switch to the LZR Racer in April, but were appeased by the company’s new suit after tests in June.

T is for timekeeping.

At the ancient Olympics, the Greeks measured seconds using ropes attached to wooden beams. Things have moved on a bit - this year’s equipment, provided by Omega, will be the most exact so far, thanks to such new technologies as micro-lightweight transponders in every athlete’s bib, and the Scan’O’Vision Star photo-finish camera, which takes more than 2,000 images each second (the starting pistol is recorded visually because races can be won by margins smaller than the time taken for its sound to cover the distance). A false start registers if the footpad underneath an athlete’s shoe registers the slightest change in pressure within 0.1sec of the gun, because it is physically impossible to react in less time. Omega have also introduced GPS technology to monitor the positions of canoeists, sailors and rowers, while the scoreboards will display results in English and Chinese characters.

V is for Victory Spike.

At 93 grams, each Nike Zoom Victory Spike weighs less than a half-eaten chocolate bar and is the lightest running spike ever produced. The secret of the shoe, which could be worn in Beijing by Chinese hurdler Liu Xiang, lies in the attractive red-and-black crisscross design - ‘flywire’ supports, modelled on the chords of a suspension bridge, that keep the thing together without the need for any excess material. An everyday-wear version without the spikes, available for £85, is titled the Nike Zoom Victory Plus.

A to Z of the Olympics. Sport — The Observer