It may not be the hottest topic in fashion magazines, but with big name swimmers gracing a runway to show off the 2012 Olympic swimsuit, it is clear that ISU Professor Rick Sharp has created more than just a suit.
After working on the 2008 Olympic suit and creating a product so fast it was banned, Speedo executives sent Sharp back to the drawing boards for this year’s summer Olympics. As a result, “Fastskin3” by Speedo was created, and Sharp has become the most sought after swimsuit designer.
“I’ve been involved with the sport of swimming since I was a kid and I’ve done quite a bit of coaches’ education programs over the years with swimming related research on the side,” Sharp said.
After publishing a paper in the early '90s on the effects of "shaving down" (meaning to shave the entire body) and drag reduction, Sharp then had a student complete a study on the new style of competitive swimwear which was a full body suit. Although the study found no evidence of the full body suits being beneficial, it grabbed the attention of Speedo Swimwear.
“When they were getting ready for the Beijing Olympics, Speedo wanted to come out with a new suit design,” Sharp said. “They wanted to take a little different approach rather than just design something and put it on people; they wanted to have a little bit more of a scientific approach to it. So they asked me to come on board as one of the advisors.”
With a team of biomechanics engineers, fluid dynamic experts and textile designers, Sharp helped collaborate during the long process of creating a suit with features that would provide optimum swimming capabilities.
When the rules were changed after the 2008 Olympics, Speedo relied on Sharp to create yet another suit within the new limitations which created more of a challenge.
“It’s a compression kind of a garment, very tight fitting, but one that does that without restricting motion,” Sharp said. “It sounds simple, but it’s very hard to accomplish that.”
With a cost of around $500, Fastskin3 is not just any suit. With different levels of compression needed for different areas of the body, the material is made with higher thread counts in specific places. Now that zippers are against regulation, the suit’s objective became to create the proper compression while still giving the swimmer the ability to get inside of it.
“Having one of the greatest minds in swimming innovation right on our campus and coming to our meets is like having a celebrity designer attend,” said Alex Gustafson, junior in environmental science and a member of the ISU swim team.
“In the swimming world that’s exactly what he is: a celebrity designer with the underlying theme of his line to produce the top times in the world.”
Surprisingly, Sharp admits that his Speedo research is merely a project that he does on the side in comparison to his other research endeavors.
Currently he is studying a group of 50 senior adults and the influence of exercise and vitamin D and its effects on bone and muscle health as people age. While still in the early stages of his study, he is unable to make any comments on the results.
With positive critiques from Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte and Natalie Coughlin, Sharp’s résumé can only be described as influential in the world of kinesiology.