By Andrew P. Scott, USA TODAY Sports
Rebecca Soni waves to the crowd after getting her gold medal for winning the women's 200-meter breaststroke in world-record time.
By Erik Brady, USA TODAY
LONDON - The first six days of the Olympic swim meet yielded six world records, a rate not seen since high-tech body suits were banned in 2010.
"I'm very surprised," American swimmer Jessica Hardy said. "We didn't see any for so long. Having them all happen here at such an exciting meet is mind-blowing and really exciting."
Suits that were were rubberized, to allow more buoyancy and speed, were introduced in 2008 and were in use during the Beijing Games, where world records fell at a dizzying pace. Michael Phelps set world records in seven of his eight gold-medal wins, wearing a full-body suit made partly of polyurethane.
Fully non-permeable suits came in after that, and world records rang up like pinball scores - 43 were set in the 2009 world championships in Rome. Critics said the suits had cheapened the meaning of world records.
FINA, swimming's world governing body, banned the suits in 2010. Since, few world records had been broken; entering the Games, world records that were set in the high-tech era of 2008 and 2009 stood in 30 of 32 events.
"I think the suits were in some ways a great thing because they raised the bar," said Frank Busch, team director for USA Swimming. "And these kids only know one thing - you raise it, we chase it."
Records have been set in London by Ye Shiwen of China in the women's 400-meter individual medley (4:28.43), the USA's Dana Vollmer in the women's 100 butterfly (55.98), South Africa's Cameron van der Burgh in the men's 100 breaststroke (58.46), Hungary's Daniel Gyurta in the men's 200 breaststroke, and the USA's Rebecca Soni in the women's 200 breaststroke - twice, first in the semifinals (2:20.00) and a day later in the final (2:19.59).
"Records get broken," Soni said. "I'm sure someday mine will be, too, but it still means the world (to) be the first woman under 2:20."
U.S. swimmer Natalie Coughlin guaranteed before the Games that world records would fall.
"Swimming is one of those wonderful sports where people figure out ways to improve," she said. "There's so much happening in the water. And there are so many little ways to improve. That's the beauty of our sport."
Coughlin says the rubberized suits were unfair because "bigger, muscular, power swimmers got more out of the suit than the smaller, technique, finesse swimmers because of buoyancy."
U.S. women's coach Teri McKeever says swimmers work exceptionally hard to build their core strength.
"It takes years to get to that level," she said. "Or you could put a suit on for 45 minutes and get the same effect. So it minimizes the person who has gone and done the work, and I think we're back to the truer form of the athlete and the athlete's work representing what the outcome is."
The athletes appreciate how hard it is to break world records set in the high-tech era.
"No matter what country you're from," Hardy said, "everyone gets excited every time one falls."