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Page last updated at 13:48 GMT, Friday, 20 February 2009

Goodhew demands hi-tech suit ban

Rebecca Adlington at the Beijing Olympics
Rebecca Adlington claimed two golds and a world record in a Speedo LZR suit

By Matt Slater

World swimming's governing body must ban the hi-tech suits that dominated the sport in 2008, according to British swimming great Duncan Goodhew.

Last year saw an astonishing 108 world records broken, 79 of them by swimmers wearing one suit, the Speedo LZR Racer.

Goodhew has urged Fina to act quickly or risk swimming's "integrity".

"The sport is changing and Fina has every right to rein it in: the sooner the better, in my view," he said.

Goodhew, who won Olympic gold at the 1980 Games in Moscow, was speaking to BBC Sport ahead of Fina's emergency summit on swimsuit technology.

The sport's leading manufacturers were called to Lausanne on Friday amid growing concerns about the new developments in suit technology.

"Swimming is beautifully objective: it's you, your fitness, your skill and your psychological tenacity that makes the difference," said the 51-year-old Goodhew.

We are pleased Fina wants to tighten the rules on buoyancy - we think clearer guidelines will take some of the concern away

Speedo's Jason Rance
"But now we've got another factor: your swimsuit.

"The integrity of the sport is man in water so the swimsuit should be neutral. It's quite easy, they need to test that the material of the suit is not as good as skin, that should be the litmus test.

"It is quite clear that when swimmers cover themselves in material they believe it will make them swim faster - they believe it's a swimming aid. That breaks Fina's rules already."

Fina's rules in regard to swimming aids - flippers, paddles or buoyancy devices - are clear: apart from caps and goggles, they are not allowed.

What is less clear, however, is what happens when swimsuits start to do more than just protect modesty and actually enhance performance.

Speedo has welcomed Fina's belated attempts to bring more clarity to its regulations. And the Nottingham-based company, the world's largest swimwear brand, has repeatedly stated its desire to work within the rules.

Report - Hi-tech swimsuits polarise opinion

Jason Rance, Speedo's vice-president of marketing and former head of the research and development division that came up with the LZR, told BBC Sport the suit did not provide any buoyancy. Its secret was that it reduced drag through the water.

"We tested the suit and 10 other suits available on the market last year and none of them provided buoyancy," Rance said.

"We are pleased Fina wants to tighten the rules on buoyancy. We think clearer guidelines will take some of the concern away.

"But we've been doing this for 80 years - swimming is all we do - and we have always been clear that our suits don't help you float."

The first swimsuit to combine stitch-free, ultrasonically welded seams, water-resistant fabric and strategically-placed polyurethane panels (designed by Nasa), the LZR took the swimming world by storm.

Launched on 13 February, the first two of what would become a tsunami of world records fell to the LZR within a week. The following month saw 15 more long-course records go, almost all of them to swimmers clad in Speedo.

But with long-standing marks tumbling the first murmurings of dissent were heard. In March, Fina defended its decision to approve the LZR - with no independent analysis of the suit's properties - but from this moment on the focus was on the governing body and Speedo.

The pressure grew throughout 2008, particularly when national teams, under pressure from swimmers desperate to wear Speedo's revolutionary threads, started to break contracts with rival manufacturers. And a number of leading coaches said their charges would have no chance at the Olympics without an LZR.

Michael Phelps LZR advert
The LZR's space-age fabric and panels help Phelps slip through the water
Results in Beijing suggested they were right: LZR swimmers, most notably Michael Phelps, won 94% of the golds on offer and broke 23 of the 25 records set in the Cube.

For Rance and Speedo the key issue is availability.

"We took 4,000 extra LZR suits to Beijing and offered them to anybody who wanted to wear one," he explained.

"So a swimmer might not have had the best pool in the world to train in, or the benefits of altitude training, but they could wear a LZR."

But that does not take into account what happens below the elite level. The LZR costs over 300 and can only be worn a few times before it loses its shape or rips.

Goodhew, who wore 10 trunks during his heyday, believes this creates an artificial barrier to entry. It is a point many administrators and coaches around the world have been making recently.

Australian, Dutch and US officials have already restricted the use of hi-tech suits below elite-level competition and measures to tackle the practice of wearing two or more suits are also on the cards.

It was this unexpected development - and the arrival of quicker, custom-made suits - that prompted the new president of European Aquatics (LEN) Nory Kruchten to call for curbs before swimming "became like Formula One".

Matters came to a head at the European Short-Course Championships in December. Seventeen world records were set in Rijeka but the sight of swimmers squeezing into more than one suit in an attempt to compress their bodies and trap air for buoyancy dismayed many observers.

There are all kinds of new suits out there now but people are just taking it too far and they need to set some limits on it

American star Jason Lezak
"After Rijeka it was clear the suits were an issue and they needed to be discussed more deeply," the LEN president told BBC Sport.

"Even with these suits you have to have a swimmer and it is the swimmer that performs. But some of these suits are being especially manufactured for individuals and that is not in the rules.

"Fina needs to analyse the fabrics being used to make sure they comply with existing rules, and we must also think about how we approve suits in the future.

"I don't think Fina made a mistake in approving the Speedo suit but what happened next with the arrival of other suits perhaps wasn't expected. These suits will be analysed more carefully now and a decision will be made."

Kruchten's fears about the trend the LZR started have been echoed elsewhere.

Jason Lezak, who kept Phelps' gold rush on track in Beijing with a heroic relay split, was an early adopter of the Speedo suit but is worried about where the sport is heading.

"In other sports you've seen situations where equipment has come along that helps performance, and there's nothing wrong with that," the 33-year-old sprint specialist said.

"But you've just got to make sure it doesn't get to a point where it's over-kill, like people wearing three suits to increase buoyancy.

Duncan Goodhew at the Moscow Olympics
Swimsuits in Goodhew's era were small, tight and cheap
"And there are all kinds of new suits out there now. The LZR was the fastest six months ago but now people are saying there are four or five suits that are better. People are just taking it too far and they need to set some limits on it."

Responsibility for what happens next lies squarely with Fina, which issued a brief statement after Friday's meeting.

"(We are) in the process of reviewing the procedures for swimwear approval, namely in the areas of material, thickness, use, shape and availability," it said.

"An analysis of the issues which have recently been raised will be made and solutions for the future will be studied."

The next step will be to present those solutions to Fina's executive board in Dubai on 12-14 March. Any changes to the rulebook will have to be voted in at the sport's world congress in July, shortly before the world championships in Rome.

"I suspect a compromise will be reached," said Goodhew.

"And I hope that compromise is towards the integrity of the sport rather than the commercial incentives that might be there."

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see also
Simmonds shines on day of records
13 Dec 08 |  Olympics
Speedo makes waves at Olympics
19 Aug 08 |  Business
Japan lifts Olympics swimsuit ban
10 Jun 08 |  Asia-Pacific
Swimming's fastest year
15 Apr 08 |  Swimming
Speedo suit ruled legal by Fina
12 Apr 08 |  Swimming
US coach says no record is safe
10 Apr 08 |  Swimming
Making a splash
03 Apr 08 |  Swimming
Tancock races to new world record
02 Apr 08 |  Swimming
Records 'not down to swimsuits'
27 Mar 08 |  Swimming
Swimsuit technology under review
25 Mar 08 |  Swimming
Scientists invent speedy swimsuit
11 Mar 08 |  Nottinghamshire

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