Australian Olympic Committee challenges FINA over swimsuit

When money is no object, the creme de la creme of swim gifts is the high-tech speed suit that debuted in Sydney  Credit: Courtesy Speedo
Is it cheating or is it progress?

That's a question for debate and possibly the courts following the introduction of the new long-john style swimsuit, Fastskin by Speedo and a similar style from adidas which many Olympic swimmers are endorsing.

On Tuesday, the Australian Olympic Committee announced that it was set to go to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) to test the legality of the controversial bodysuits.

The AOC is questioning whether FINA, the world governing body of swimming, which has already approved the swimsuit for use in competition, should have examined the product further. The AOC feels the swimsuit could act as a performance-enhancing device.

"The AOC is very concerned about the legality of the bodysuits, particularly in light of their publicized effects in aiding speed and endurance, said John Coates, president of the AOC.

FINAs rule SW10.7 states: "No swimmer shall be permitted to use or wear any device that may aid his speed, buoyancy or endurance during a competition (such as webbed gloves, flippers, fins, etc.). Goggles may be worn."

Top U.S. swimmers like world-record holder Lenny Krayzelburg, and gold medalist Jenny Thompson have expressed their approval of the new swimsuit.

"It is definitely the fastest suit I have ever put on and tried swimming in," said Krayzelburg. "It will definitely improve performances during competition."

Prior to making the request to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, Coates had invited adidas and Speedo, as two manufacturers of the bodysuits, to join with the AOC "so that a definitive decision could be achieved," he said.

Coates said the manufacturers would be able to give their own evidence as to the technical merits, effects and benefits of each of their bodysuits, together with reasons and means by which FINA approved each bodysuit.

On Wednesday, adidas decided not to provide the information to CAS. Speedo has agreed to provide full information about its bodysuit to the CAS inquiry while Australian Swimming is currently obtaining legal advice as to its role in the request.

AOC secretary-general Craig McLatchey said that FINA did not want to participate in the upcoming test case.

FINA President Mustapha Larfaoui said the AOCs challenge has no merit.

I can see no reason for the AOC to challenge a decision based on rules adopted by the FINA congress," he said. "Neither do I understand in which capacity the AOC should have the right to be a party in a question of interpretation of FINA rules." FINA's honorary secretary, Gunnar Werner of Sweden, said his federation had no reason not to approve the bodysuit back in October.

The long-john-style bodysuit was approved by FINA after Australian head coach Don Talbot asked for a ruling on its legality because it might provide extra buoyancy.

In a telephone interview Wednesday, Werner said: "While some athletes swam in the new long-john style, many of the world records set in Greece we're set by swimmers in 'old-fashioned' suits. The new suits are similar to the Aquablade, which we had approved in 1996. The material though looks a little different and the sleeves and legs are a little longer."

"Swimming bodysuits are definitely not devices," Werner added. "I remember 12 years ago an American named Moriarty tried to use something at the starting blocks that prevented feet from slipping. But that was a device and we outlawed it."

Werner also said that in the future companies would have to get FINA's approval before developing further technology in bodysuits to avoid any misunderstandings.

FINA was not consulted by either Speedo or adidas in their development of their respect bodysuits.

Speedos idea behind the bodysuit was to make its outer fabric similar to skin of one of the fastest creatures in the ocean. The shark has skin made of tiny hydrofoils and V-shaped ridges that decrease turbulence and drag as it moves through water.

The fabric also includes a super stretch element that improves shape retention and a muscle compression component that reduces the muscle vibration, a major source of power loss and fatigue for swimmers.

Weve been very careful in making sure that the Fastskin concept will only focus on the management of existing forces rather than generating active forces, said Stu Isaac, vice president of Speedo America.

Said Coates: "I want to ensure that Australian Olympic Team members' performances at the Games will be fully recognized and not subject to legal challenge. I am not in any way criticizing the swimmers or the manufacturers of the bodysuits, including Speedo and Adidas.

Thompson, a five-time gold medalist who is currently testing the Fastskin, is impressed with the bodysuit so far.

I could really feel a difference while wearing the Speedo Fastkin, she said. It was really interesting to see in the pool where the resistance or lack of resistance was. Where I was used to feeling resistance, I didnt realize it was there.

Top Australians Ian Thorpe and Michael Klim also use the suit.

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