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Star Tech: Matt Welsh

Swimming star Matt Welsh gives us the lowdown on his gadget habits and how technology is helping swimmers achieve superhuman speeds.

In this celebrity-obsessed culture, many are insatiably curious about the downtime habits of the stars. What's Oprah's favourite brand of turkey-bacon? What protein powder does Zac Efron use to get those alarmingly gnarly abs?

Here at CNET we don't really give a hoot about all that pervy lifestyle stuff, but there is one thing we do get curious about: what gadgets the celebs are hauling around in their pockets.

To scratch this itch, we've hand-picked a few Aussie personages and quizzed them about their tech habits. Last month we talked BlackBerry addiction and dodgy TV shows with the fashion crowd. This time we've caught up with swimming superstar Matt Welsh, a tech-happy fellow and "Athlete Ambassador" for Samsung who has lately been sharing his thoughts on the Beijing Olympic action via his blog.

On your BigBlog you describe yourself as "a massive technology buff". How does tech make your life easier?
I have always been a bit of a tech head, I don't know why, I just really enjoy life with gadgets! My day-to-day life-changing gadget is my Samsung BlackJack, it is a phone with the lot. I can get all my emails, organise my Outlook diary, even watch Foxtel while I'm waiting at the airport. From the garage opener to my laptop, I love life with gadgets. I'm sure I could survive without them but I don't want to try.

On the flip side, how has technology frustrated you?
Sometimes when things should work but don't it's annoying! I am the kind of person who can sleep soundly even if I've got the most important race or meeting the next day, but if I can't connect my Bluetooth device to my computer I'll stay up all night!

What's your most prized gadget?
My most prized gadget is actually my Samsung i85 digital camera. With a six-month-old son we take photos of him everyday and one day I noticed he liked looking at the screen as much as we did. As it's also a media player I put a few kids shows on it and now it's his mobile entertainment unit as well. So now when we take photos of him he looks at the camera waiting for his movies to start.

Ever had a tech-related disaster?
I remember travelling to central Australia for a holiday almost 10 years ago and was walking around a large rock pond. A number of school kids were having a swim in the pond when I lost my footing and slipped on some rocks landing waist deep in water. I then realised that I had my phone in my pocket just as all the kids recognised who it was that fell in the water. Very embarrassing!

What songs have you downloaded recently? Who are your favourite artists?
I have a very eclectic music taste, but I somehow always end up back at my favourites. The last song I downloaded was by Nina Simone, but I usually listen to Jamiroquai, U2 and almost anything from the 80s!

During your swimming career, how did you stay in touch with friends and family when you were competing internationally? Did the methods change over the years?
Technology has definitely helped everybody keep in contact with family and friends, especially while overseas. I remember competing at the 1998 World Championships in Perth where I received and sent my very first SMS. I thought this was amazing but now I think nothing of sending photos or video via email or MMS to anyone in the world. In fact, the Australian swim team now uses MMS to receive Telstra Hero Messages which means they can respond to virtually any message of support immediately.

Elite swimmers now have access to ultra high-tech suits and equipment. How has this changed the sport?
When I started swimming it was a matter of wearing as little as possible and shaving everything else that showed! I remember when the first aquablade material came out in full suits and thinking that it would never catch on, but it soon became obvious I was very wrong — I adopted the change soon after. In the pursuit of lowering resistance, Speedo even came out with a swimming cap that had built in goggles that covered half your face — I was right with that one though, it didn't catch on.

Can swimmers get any faster? Is it now up to the technology to squeeze out those crucial hundredths of a second?
When Alex Popov set the world record in the 100 freestyle almost 15 years ago, scientists said that only a taller person with Alex's strength and speed could go any faster. We now have had many different sized people go faster.

There are so many variables with swimming, as the medium of water has so much resistance, that no one thing will make a huge difference. But in the search for those hundredths of a second the technology in the swimwear, which can reduce resistance in the water, is adopted by the masses very quickly. As it's available to all competitors it is still an even playing field, but it improves so quickly that times swum now are almost incomparable to times swum only a few years ago.

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