Olympics swimming and flag socks – patriotic or insulting?

I am suffering from some serious lack of sleep at the moment as I follow the London Olympic Games. Working? Eating? Sleeping? All have to fit around my TV watching at present.

I have watched all the Olympic swim events so far, even watching the heats and semi-finals. I think the latest swimsuits look boring. Watch any final of the swimming events and it looks like everyone is wearing the same uniform, even though they are all representing different countries. Ninety percent of the swimmers wear all-black racing suits. Come on! Has Speedo gone colour blind? Speedo’s rival Arena can make bright coloured racing suits. Surely Speedo can manufacture racing suits in a colour other than black, or add some kind of design rather than just plain black. These racing suits are so plain and boring compared to the swim suits and trunks that the divers compete in and compared to the swimsuits of many years ago.

Of course these new boring black swimsuits came about after the full body suit, seen at the Beijing Olympics, were banned because swimmers wearing them were too fast! Forget about performance enhancing drugs, these were performance enhancing swimsuits. The Speedo LZR racer suit was launched in February 2008 and marketed as ‘the world’s fastest swimsuit’. Many races were won and records broken by swimmers wearing these suits. Swimmers who wore the Speedo LZR suit could lower their times by an average of 2 percent. The suit also increased bouyancy and the effect compounded, so wearing 2 suits made the swimmer even faster. This prompted FINA to ban full body-length swimsuits in 2009. In 2009, Therese Alshammar, veteran swimmer from Sweden, was disqualified in Australia after breaking her own world record in the 50m butterfly, for wearing 2 swimsuits. I wonder which official had the job of checking swimsuits! Now only swimsuits that reach to the knee are allowed.

So, in amidst a sea of boring black knee-length swimsuits, it was good to see some colour and patriotism from the US women’s swimmers. On day 4 and 5 of the Olympics competition, Cammile Adams and Kathleen Hersey, both US swimmers in the 200m butterfly event were seen walking to the starting blocks wearing knee-high socks with the design of the stars and stripes of the USA flag. Interestingly, Kathleen Hersey’s nickname is Legs, because she has long legs.

Knee-length socks in stars and stripes, similar to those worn by a few US swimmers

Knee-length socks in stars and stripes, similar to those worn by a few US swimmers. Photo from http://www.polyvore.com/american_flag_knee_high_socks/thing?id=26170388

I think the design of these socks is different and meant to be fun – show your patriotism on your feet. But this only works in cultures that don’t think of the feet as low, dirty or unclean. In other cultures, like in Thailand or in many Arab countries, wearing socks with a design of the nation’s flag on it would be highly insulting and a great disrespect to the flag.


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