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Nov. 24, 2009

Suiting up for change

by Rose Wynn, Online Sports Editor
Michael Phelps was the only one with his chest bare at the Stockholm races. But in a waist-high 2008 Speedo LZR Racer swimsuit that went to his knees, Phelps cut through the water 1.84 seconds too slow. The older-style suit left him at 16th place in the freestyle race, far behind the winners and far behind the times.

In 2008, Speedo introduced their first polyurethane swimsuit. It was a sleek, full-body, non-textile piece of technology expected to deliver faster swimming times than even the best performance-enhancement drug.

And it did. During the 2008 swimming world championships in Rome, swimmers set over 43 new world records. The vast majority of record-breakers wore the new suit, according to the New York Times. The swimmers set 13 more records than those who competed in Australia a year before the suits were introduced. By the end of 2008, the new suit technology had yielded 108 swimming world records.

Recently, the Federation Internationale de Natation (FINA), the international governing body of swimming, decided to ban the bodysuits starting Jan. 1, 2010. Until then, swimmers can decide whether to sport the high-tech suits or more conventional wear. At Stockholm, most swimmers stuck with polyurethane, knowing it could bring them gold and glory. But Phelps honorably chose to compete with his natural talent and strength, unaided by the technical power of a swimsuit.

His sacrifice took a toll. Phelps dragged during his push-off for the 100-meter backstroke and was disqualified from the race. He missed two finals on Tuesday, and placed only third in the 100-meter individual medley. Even in the 200-meter butterfly, his claim-to-fame, Phelps fell to fifth place. For the 200-meter individual medley, Phelps trailed behind the first-place swimmer by an entire second.

Phelps realized that his decision to shun the high-tech bodysuit would mean a blow to his rankings. "I knew this wasn't gonna be the best meet, but every now and then we need a wake-up call," he said.

An avid supporter of the swimsuit ban, Phelps decided to risk it all at Stockholm and gauge his true potential for the 2010 national swimming championships, at which swimmers will be expected to sport the older swim garments. "We have to get used to it, so it's good to start now," Phelps said in an ESPN interview.

World-class swimmers used Stockholm as an excuse to squeeze a last advantage out of the new swimsuits. As a result, five new world records were created, which may have been impossible without the polyurethane bodysuits. FINA claimed such world records would stand after the ban, regardless of whether or not they could be beaten without the bodysuits. However, FINA executive director Cornel Marculescu recently stated that such unsurpassed records could be "amended" if necessary.

It will probably be a while before the bare-chested swimmers break any sleek-suit records. For now, we can rest assured knowing that natural talent, the best measure of talent, will be winning the gold.



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  • ~~ on November 26, 2009 at 1:21 PM
    Due to his contract with Speedo, Phelps can't wear swimsuits that are not made by Speedo. So whenever, another swimsuit company comes out with a faster suit, he is not allowed to wear it. Therefore, a rule that bans the super-fast suits would benefit him greatly because then he wouldn't be at as much of a disadvantage.

    Also, Phelps was disqualified in 100 meter backstroke for not breaking out before the 15 meter mark. I guess that is what you were trying to say when you said "dragged during his push-off".
  • asd on November 27, 2009 at 6:02 PM
    What about high school Rose, what about high school?
  • Jack F (View Email) on November 30, 2009 at 2:40 PM
    There's only one thing I have to say against these suits. that is that when people who have no clue what they're talking about open their mouths and talk about how unethical it is. I swim a lot and I would personally prefer it if people would leave it to the swimmers and FiNA to figure out what to do. This applies especially to politicians. They have no business telling us what to do.

    the suits are definately ethical. If you're swimming at a level where it's actually going to make a difference, they sell the suits at meets for 80-90% off. everyone can afford it. Besides, if you can pay for a year-round swim program, you can pay for a suit.

    The polyurethane suit may be a little over the limit, however. they are completely synthetic, and make a ridiculous time drop for the swimmer. Paul Biedermann only beat Phelps because Phelps was wearing a LZR Racer, while Biedermann was wearing an Arena X-Glide.

    By the way, the author of this article made a mistake. the LZR Racer is only partially polyurethane. it was made of Lycra and Nylon. It had polyurethane inserts.
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