Two of the fastest U.S. swimmers in the world – Caeleb Dressel and Adam Peaty – both have major league tattoos on their left shoulders and both arms.
Dressel’s left arm is smothered in black ink with a tint of light orange, sort of Halloween-ish. The image is of some wild vulture or dungeon creature. His right forearm has a tat of the classic five Olympic rings.
Peaty’s got an eerily similar wildlife in a dungeon image on his left shoulder arm and more meandering and incomprehensible black ink on his right forearm.
Which begs the question: Does a tattoo help you swim faster?
Let’s take a serious look at this issue.
Maybe the tattoos create less drag when Dressel and Peaty whip through the water. The ink on the skin could, theoretically, create less resistance than normal skin. It could be the secret ointment explaining why they’ve been posting faster times than all the other swimmers in the world over the past few years.
Let’s get our heads around this. A tattoo on a swimmer’s shaved head could create less resistance than a swimming cap. So it’s entirely possible you’ll see more swimmers at the U.S. Olympic Trials in June shave their heads and get tattoos covering their entire noggins.
The ones who only get tats on half their heads are less likely to swim as fast. It’s got to be a complete covering of the cranium with ear-to-ear ink.
There could be different styles of head tattoos such as a tattoo on the head, or breastplate, of Peaty with the word “breaststroke” in charcoal black letters.
Dressel could get one on his head that says “Planet Phelpstopia” — or shows an image of Phelps flapping his arms before a race. This image would– psyche up Dressel to break the Phelps records in the butterfly and freestyle events.
There’s also this basic chemistry question: Could chlorine and ink create less resistance as a person swims through water? Chemists around the world are studying this at this moment. They’re also conducting a worldwide survey of elite swimmers with tattoos asking if their times have gotten faster since they go their tattoos. Results of the survey are to be released this month.
The stakes couldn’t be any higher. A swimmer who can cut one one-hundredth of a second off his or her fastest time could clinch a spot on the Olympic team to compete in July in Tokyo, Japan.
For an expert opinion, we checked in with the head of the National Federation of Tattoo Artists, Tucker Tattoo. We asked him if this swimming faster theory rocking tattoos has a leg to swim on.
“Well I think it’s possible you can swim faster with tattoos but I’m not a dermatologist so can’t say for sure,” he said. “I can tell you that an awful lot of elite U.S. swimmers have been coming to my parlor lately getting whacked-looking tattoos on their arms and shaved heads hoping it will help them swim faster in the U.S. Olympic trials.”
There are naysayers, as there always are, who think this notion is preposterous. After all, the two greatest swimmers in the history of mankind, Michael Phelps and Katie Ledecky don’t have tattoos and they beat everybody including every other swimmer who has ever had a tat.
“This is a screwball theory,” said Seymour Swimming, president of the U.S. Swimming Association. “If tats made you swim faster, they would’ve been tatting up decades ago to get an edge. The theory doesn’t pass the chlorine test.”