Bodysuits banned from U.S. Olympic trials

Posted: Friday, June 23, 2000

FEDERAL WAY, Wash. -- American swimmers won't be allowed to wear the latest fashion at the Olympic trials.

USA Swimming voted Thursday to ban bodysuits from being worn at the Aug. 9-16 trials in Indianapolis. The high-tech attire, which has revolutionized the sport in recent months, will be permitted at the Sydney Games in September.

American officials were troubled by the prospect of not having enough of the new-wave suits for the trials, expected to attract more than 1,300 competitors. Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with demand as world records keep falling this year -- many to swimmers wearing some form of the bodysuit.

The board of USA Swimming, meeting by conference call, voted 16-3 to ban the suit for the trials only.

''The issue of fairness to all participants was of paramount importance to the board,'' executive director Chuck Wielgus said in a statement. ''The board had a real concern that the suit would not be readily available to all trials swimmers in a reasonable amount of time prior to the event.''

Lenny Krayzelburg, the world record-holder in the 100- and 200-meter backstroke, agreed with the ruling. He has worn the bodysuit a few times but doesn't plan to use it in his signature events.

''If everyone had a fair opportunity to wear the suits, then it would have been OK,'' he said. ''But if some of us got an advantage over the other swimmers, then I don't think it's fair. The fair way to make the Olympic team is everyone racing on even ground.''

Richard Quick, coach of the women's Olympic team and one of the bodysuit's strongest supporters, begrudgingly accepted the decision.

''In the interest of fairness, it was probably a good idea,'' he said. ''I was hoping that our Olympic team would get to try it out at the trials. But we will wear it at the Olympic Games, and I think we will have people swimming their lifetime bests.''

Bodysuits have been approved by the sport's international governing body, which found no evidence they enhance performance. The swimming competition in Sydney begins Sept. 16.

The American governing body asked four leading suit manufacturers -- Speedo, adidas, Nike and Tyr -- to make their high-tech suits available to all swimmers by June 14, giving them plenty of time to get comfortable in the new attire before the trials.

But adidas was the only one that met the deadline, forcing USA Swimming to reconsider its position.

Speedo says its research shows the ''Fastskin'' fabric provides a 3 percent reduction in drag -- significant in a sport where races are decided by hundredths of a second.

The Speedo suits were designed by marine biologists with a textured pattern that they say mimics the effect of sharkskin in water. Adidas says its bodysuits improve performance by compressing a swimmer's muscles.

''They are fast,'' Quick said.

Australians Ian Thorpe and Susie O'Neill wore bodysuits as they set world records at the Australian Olympic trials last month. Inge de Bruijn of the Netherlands wore one while setting three world marks over the past two weeks. American Tom Malchow was covered when he broke the record for the 200-meter butterfly at Charlotte, N.C., last weekend.

''I don't know if the suit makes a difference or not, but I feel faster in it,'' Malchow said. ''Swimming is very much a mental sport, so you do what you have to do to feel better. Whether it is wearing designer goggles or a pink bathing cap with flowers on it, if you feel better with them you will use them.''

Obviously, Speedo wanted to put its product on display at the high-profile trials. The company issued a statement saying it was ''disappointed with the decision.''

''We will continue to work toward our goal of providing all Olympic hopefuls with the opportunity to practice and compete in the bodysuit,'' said Speedo vice president Stu Isaac, a project manager for Fastskin.

Speedo officials were confident of being able to manufacturer enough suits to handle demand at the trials.

''The suits do not need to be fitted to each swimmer,'' said Craig Brommers, director of sports marketing. ''You don't need to train in this suit extensively to feel comfortable with it.''

The ruling by USA Swimming raised another issue: Which bodysuits are banned from the trials?

There are different styles, the most prominent being the suit that stretches from the neck to the ankles and also covers the arms. But some swimmers are wearing less, such as a suit that covers the torso and stops above the knees.

''In the coming days we hope to get a clarification on what 'new body suit' means,'' Brommers said. ''They have disallowed the bodysuit, but we have a myriad of other silhouettes for the suit. Now, the question is whether we can we make Speedo Fastskin suits in those other silhouettes.''

Wielgus indicated before the vote that some form of the bodysuit would likely be allowed at the trials.

''We have to define it exactly,'' he said. ''I think they will allow suits that go just above the knees and cover the upper torso, but leave the arms uncovered.''

Dick Jochums, who coaches some of the top distance swimmers in the country, said Thursday's decision puts the focus at the trials back on competition rather than technology.

''Good for U.S. swimming!'' he said. ''We were sending the wrong message to our young swimmers.''



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