Tokyo Olympics: Why do swimmers like Kyle Chalmers have weird red circular dots on their skin?

Why swimmers in Tokyo, including Australia’s Kyle Chalmers, have big red circles on their skin – as he prepares to defend his Olympic title

Kyle Chalmers will not only thank his coach, family and friends as he defends his 100m freestyle title at the Tokyo Olympics on Thursday.

An ancient alternative medicine could also be attributed to the Australian sprint king’s pool success following his comeback to the sport after shoulder surgery seven months ago.

Sports fans watching at home will have seen Chalmers’ upper body covered in large dark circles as the double Olympian delved into his Tokyo campaign this week.

Eagle-eyed viewers will also have seen the signature markings on other Olympians, including Japanese relay swimmer Akira Namba.

Cupping therapy, made famous by American swimming legend Michael Phelps in Rio in 2016, has returned to the Olympics five years later.

Viewers this week spotted the large dark circles on the body of swimmer Kyle Chalmers in Tokyo, also known as cupping therapy.

The pain and detoxification treatment that the Chinese have used for centuries involves therapists heating small glass cups, then placing them on the skin and pulling them out of the body to loosen and relax the muscles.

The form of acupuncture is based on the idea that suction from the cups pulls the skin up and increases blood circulation, relieves muscle tension and stimulates cell repair.

Chalmers appears to have used cupping for at least several months prior to his Olympic campaign.

Australian singer-turned-swimmer Cody Simpson also appeared to be using the therapy while preparing for last month’s national Olympic selection trials.

Japanese relay swimmer Akira Namba (pictured) is also a fan of cupping therapy

Japanese relay swimmer Akira Namba (pictured) is also a fan of cupping therapy

Cupping therapy has made an Olympic comeback, five years after it was first seen on American swimming legend Michael Phelps (pictured)

Cupping therapy has made an Olympic comeback, five years after it was first seen on American swimming legend Michael Phelps (pictured)

Hollywood stars such as Justin Bieber, Gwyneth Paltrow and Jennifer Aniston were also fans of the treatment, while Australian actress Rose Byrne was pictured on a beach in Byron Bay late last year with circular patches on her back.

But not everyone is convinced of its benefits.

A study published in the Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine in 2019 stated that “large randomized clinical trials, systematic reviews and meta-analyses in the future” were needed to explore its full effects.

“One of the controversial views about cupping therapy is that it only has a placebo effect,” the study says.

“This placebo theory about cupping therapy will persist until a reliable and valid mechanism is found.”

Chalmers is one of many Australians hunting for gold in the pool on Thursday.

Kyle Chalmers (right) is a fan of cupping therapy after returning from shoulder surgery

Kyle Chalmers (right) is a fan of cupping therapy after returning from shoulder surgery

Swimmers in action on Thursday

Day Finals (11:30 AM – 1:40 PM AEST)

Men’s 800m Freestyle Final – Jack McLoughlin

Men’s 200m Breaststroke Final – Zac Stubblety-Cook

Women’s 100m Freestyle Semifinal – Emma McKeon, Cate Campbell

Men’s 200m Backstroke Semifinal – Tristan Hollard

Women’s 200m Butterfly Final – Brianna Throssell

Men’s 100m Freestyle Final – Kyle Chalmers

Women’s 200m Breaststroke Semifinal – Jenna Strauch

Men’s 200m Individual Medley Semifinals – Mitch Larkin

Women’s 4 x 200m Freestyle Relay Final – Australia

Heats (20:00-10:30 AEST)

Women’s 800m Freestyle – Ariarne Titmus, Kiah Melverton

Men’s 100m Butterfly – David Morgan, Matthew Temple

Women’s 200m Backstroke – Kaylee McKeown, Emily Seebohm

Mixed 4 x 100m medley relay – Australia

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