- 6 Aug 08, 01:44 PM
Three years of intensive research. A fabric developed in Nasa laboratories. 48 world records broken. Speedo's new Lazer swimsuit has caused enormous waves in pro swimming world.
That's all very well. But what happens if you wear it down at your local Beijing pool?
The initial response in the men's changing rooms in Xiao Xi Tian is one of muted disgust.
It's not so much the suit - that's still in my bag - as the fact that I am woefully unaware of Chinese swimming pool protocol.
As far as I can see, there are no separate cubicles to get changed in. So does that mean I get undressed in full view of everyone else? We're all boys together, yes?
Not unless Chinese men regularly break off from combing their hair and tying their shoelaces to stare red-faced at the ceiling or turn to face the nearest wall with a low growl.
The suit itself is like a second skin. It's like trying to force my body into a snake's sleeping-bag.
With one foot stuck in the gusset and everything else in the shop window, I overbalance and hop across the changing-room floor, apologising profusely in a language no-one else can understand.
Summoning up the last of my dignity, I pull on the shoulder straps, mutter "Xiexie" at the assembled throng and walk out through the nearest door - straight into the toilets.
The scene out by the pool is charming. Old ladies are slowly cruising through the water, using the time-honoured 'polishing tables' breast-stroke technique favoured by casual swimmers the world over. Children are splashing about enthusiastically with floats and flippers.
As I slide into the cloudy chlorine, two of the children see me coming and scull away frantically. One of the old women stares in horror and swims into the woman in front of her.
I attempt to strike up a conversation with a rotund man perched on the edge of the pool. He points at my spray-on suit, slaps the large belly flopping over his trunks and shakes his head emphatically.
"Honestly - you'd be surprised," I tell him. "It's like wearing a corset."
He says something back and holds out his forearms, gesturing for me to give them a feel.
"Goodness," I say, squeezing one warily. "So strong."
He smiles and nods, flops into the pool and thrashes his way up to the other end.
I duck under a lane rope and surface close to a gaggle of chatting ladies. They scatter as rapidly as if I had a dorsal fin.
As I push off the side and start front-crawling down the lane, three of the women press themselves against the side of the pool. The other two are already hauling themselves out of the water.
I haven't repelled women this effectively since an accident at work involving a large pot of yoghurt left me walking round with an unpleasant stain down the front of my shorts.
After a few brisk lengths (summary: it's like wearing the world's thinnest wetsuit) I borrow an interpreter to gather a selection of opinions. In no particular order, here are some of their thoughts:
"I would never wear one. It makes you look like a woman."
"Are you a professional?"
"I can't see a Chinese man wearing that."
"Isn't it a woman's costume?"
"I've never seen anything like that before."
"No. Men should swim in shorts, like mine."
Michael Phelps, who'll be aiming for eight gold medals at these Olympics, says of the Lazer: "When I hit the water, I feel like a rocket."
Tom Fordyce, who'll be aiming to wear board-shorts next time, says: "When I left the water, I felt like the entire place was laughing at me."
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