15 hottest products of 2008: Speedo LZR

You might wonder how much work can go into half a yard of fabric. The answer is, quite a lot, especially if you're the maker of swimwear for champions.

Speedo spent three years and untold millions researching and designing asuper swimsuit. A suit that only elite, Olympian swimmers would wear. It tested 100 different fabrics and suit designs, and conducted body scans of probably every top-level swimmer in the world (more than 400, the company claims) to come up with the Speedo LZR. The ultimate suit for hydro-propulsion.

The LZR (pronounced laser) is nothing if not a collaborative feat of engineering. Co-designed by experts at NASA and ANSYS, a fluid dynamics software company, the specially-engineered fabric is ultrasonically-welded to appear seamless, and uses paneling that helps buoyancy while decreasing drag. The suit can reportedly reduce a swimmer's time by 1.9% to 2.2%, amazing numbers when records are made and broken by hundredths of a second.

So much innovation packed into one paper-light swimsuit. The LZR even made Time Magazine's Best Inventions of the Year.

Hype? Apparently not. No sooner had the LZR been launched than swimmers wearing it begin to break records. When it first came out, swimmers in this suit started breaking records.

And competitors cried foul, calling it "doping on a hangar" and "Speedo's surfboard." The criticism that LZR suits somehow gave elite swimmers an unfair advantage prompted a sit down between Speedo and FINA, the world swimming organization. But in the end, FINA found in favor of the LZR, and ultimately endorsed the suit for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

And what do you know. Some 94% of all swimming races were won by competitors wearing the LZR. American god Michael Phelps wore the suit to a historic eight gold medals.

Not surprisingly, the LZR is now de rigeur for competitive swimmers worldwide. And it doesn't hurt that such science is surrounding the hips of Phelps. Speedo couldn't be more pleased having the tall, good-looking Olympian to advertise its world-class innovation. And lest you think you can't have some of this science for yourself, Speedo rolled out is retail line of LZR swimsuits in May.

This isn't beachwear. You can buy your own LZR for the eye-popping price of between $290 and $550 (for the full-body glove). But don't fret. Chances are that if you're worthy of the suit, you're worthy of some corporate endorsements first.

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