The Role of Technology in Swimming
“Advancing the sport is tied to technological advances,” says coach Kim Brackin. It’s easy to only consider the technological controversies in swimming— who can forget the “supersuits” that caused fireworks at the 2008 Beijing Olympics—but technology is a fundamental part of the future of swimming and, as Brackin says, “if you’re not on board with that, you’re going to get left behind.”
Brackin first explains her broader definition of technology; it’s not just NASA developed swimsuits, Brackin includes the underwater camera she uses for stroke analysis when she is coaching, the live streaming of competitions, sport science protocols, and, of course, custom goggles. “There are all these things just continuing to build in our sport and I think it’s more embracing that idea of how technology can help advance the sport,” Brackin says.
First, Brackin is conscious of the gap technology can create, referencing the most decorated athlete she ever coached: “One drawback is that [access] won’t be equal across the world. [Olympic gold medalist] Kirsty Coventry came from Zimbawe and only swam in the summer because it was too expensive to heat the pool in the winter. How do swimmers from Zimbawe compete with swimmers from the US or Australia? There are imbalances in what people have. I don’t know how to make it equal, but I don’t think that will ever be the case for anything in the world.”
Despite the challenges technology can bring, Brackin insists the benefits outweigh the difficulties and that technology can close more gaps than it creates. “Just having people think outside the box: how do you make [the process of swimming] more streamlined? How do you make things more comfortable? How do you do things that help grow the sport, whether it’s because goggles are more comfortable to wear or because it’s more exciting to watch?” Making swimming more accessible will invite and retain more people in the sport.
Not only does Brackin want to share the sport of swimming with more people but, she explains, growing the sport will help it thrive. “You have to have a community of people who want to watch your sport and, to make the sport more exciting for the general masses, there has to be something else to it that who touched the wall first,” Brackin says. “Creating an interest in our sport is going to come with technological advances. I kind of hate to say that but I think it’s true. Look at F1. A lot more people watch Formula 1 after the Netflix series.”
Whether it’s an algorithm ranking swimmers in competition, using sport science to analyse strokes, broadcasting competitions via the internet, custom goggles, or sharing stories on social media, as Brackin says, “We have to evolve with the new generations and that’s where technology comes in.”