Records can be made or broken depending on how balanced the interplay between athlete and the highly developed equipment is. The paramount requirement for sporting success is, of course, a thoroughly fit body, trained to top form and driven to the limit.

Yet the second requirement for the achievement of ambitious targets, and one that is just as important, is the use of technically perfected aids. 

Frequently, the athlete and equipment form a symbiotic unit. How symbiotic this relationship can become is impressively illustrated when it comes to the current competition-level swim-suits.

High-tech aquatic suits have been used to set more than 100 world records since their introduction in 2008.

In reaction, the world governing body for aquatic sports FINA (Fédération Internationale de Natation) stressed that swimming is a sport essentially based on the physical performance of the athlete and that all athletes should have the chance to compete in equal conditions, thereby establishing the winner in terms of physical performance.

FINA did not deny that swimming, like all other sports, should integrate the natural progress and improvements in technology where this helps, bettering the conditions under which the athletes compete and optimising their athletic performances.

But they stated that in a rapidly evolving world, regulations need to progress as well in order to address emerging issues. As a result, FINA published some general equipment regulations, as well as a list of swimsuits, that are allowed in international competitions. Nevertheless, even within these guidelines, it is still a design competition, which determines victory or defeat in the water.

Sporting events, such as the Olympic Games, create a constant motivating force for innovation, subjecting sports equipment to a continuous process of improvement and development. This sometimes leads to absurd situations, such as the legendary Swiss Lauberhorn World Cup ski-slope, for example.

It had to be slowed down this season, as the ski equipment has become so advanced that the athletes travelled too fast. The risk of fatal accidents, therefore, had simply become too high.

Much of the equipment used by professional athletes today was formerly there to serve a particular functional purpose. This applies, above all, to means of transport such as boats, bicycles and cars, but also to the pole that founded the sport of pole vaulting.

Experience in the design of technical equipment is reflected directly in competitive success – it has been shown, for example, that great sea-faring nations have also produced excellent competitive success in this field – and the aesthetically successful, elegant equipment is generally also the best.

Another element of sport, beyond competition, is that of play. This occupies a central role in society, particularly in the lives of young people. Athleticism signals positive characteristics such as dynamism, youth and success, which contribute to social acceptance.

For this reason, both leisure sports and top competitive sports now rank among the most important growth markets. In both sectors, the role of design goes beyond mere shaping of surfaces or ensuring functionality. In mass sports, in particular, the utility value of a product is subject to a change in meaning.

It is no longer measured in terms of usefulness, but above all by emotional qualities, which provide information on a product’s experience value. Good design has the function of making the inner qualities of the objects visible and communicating them convincingly. This interplay between emotional values, efficiency and aesthetic design is evident – for example, in streamlining.

But in both amateur and professional sports, the aim is always that of continuous improvement in performance. The human body and the sports equipment are the only variables. Under competitive conditions, the ‘design’ of the body, however, is not always achieved by fair sporting means.

Doping is a phenomenon accompanying modern high-performance sports, which is much discussed, yet not fully combated. The increasing commercialisation of sport, on the one hand, and the representative function of the athlete, on the other, have led to a situation in which athletes are largely regarded as a symbol of the modern-day warrior.

Good design is necessary to preserve this function and at the same time to ensure the highest athletic achievement without damage to health. 

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