A Major Eye Roll for Leaky Goggles

By Monica Hesse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 14, 2008

He churned into the wall in his $550 swimming suit and his two -- two!-- aerodynamic caps, only to look downright peeved: In his fourth Olympic-gold race, Michael Phelps had bested the world record by a measly three-hundredths of a second.

Later he explained the petulance. Phelps, rippling specimen of exacting training and futuristic technology, was the victim of his goggles.

The Speed Sockets had leaked, and he could barely see for the last 100 meters of his Wednesday butterfly race.

His goggles!

The stupid hunks of rubber and plastic that retail at $30 tops, because it's virtually impossible to improve them beyond that price point.

And then, the next day, in the 200-meter individual medley semifinal, he touches the wall, gets that look, lifts his goggles and -- unbelievable! -- water leaks out again.

Michael Phelps felled by his off-the-shelf goggles is like LeBron James tripping on a shoelace, like Shawn Johnson missing a landing because of a wedgie. Only, those things wouldn't happen because inventions like lace clips and spray adhesive have made nearly every aspect of sport into science.

And still, those leaky goggles, plaguing even the most polished of swimmers.

"I assumed it was his goggles before anyone had said anything," says Jack Roach, a coach who has assisted in training Phelps and who watched the race on television.

"It was the way they were up on his head," says Summer Sanders, a former Olympian who won two golds in the 1992 Games.

"The only thing more frustrating would have been if they'd flipped down over his mouth," says Sanders. "Because then you have to wait for your turn, touch the wall and flick them off at the same time."

Swimmers are an obsessive bunch. Men shave their legs. Racers on starting blocks flap or windmill their arms a precise number of times (three for Phelps). Such ritualistic behaviors are necessary for a sport that is decided in hundredths of a second and occurs in a substance that humans only recently have learned not to drown in.

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