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Swimming ‘sane’ again?

Only by January 1, 2010, will swimming return to pre-2008 standards of fairness on suits.

Aquatics website SwimNews reported today that a death knell has been sounded for non-permeable materials in the debate over how much further suit rules need to be tightened to rid the sport of performance-enhancing devices.

From January 1 next year, suits will have to be made of permeable material (the definition of which is still to be refined) from strap to ankle, while a change to the maximum body cover of suits may follow well in time for the London Olympics in 2012 if the advice of coaches and swimmers’ representatives is adopted by FINA. Senior sources say that those at the helm of the international federation are now minded to follow that advice.

If they do, the Speedo LZR and all that followed it will be gone and swimming as we had known it would have been resurrected, while a professional suit-testing and rules regime would be in place and well-established by London 2012. That would be to the credit of some in FINA and to the credit of coaches, athletes and others who have worked towards that goal.

It was obvious from the world short course championships in Manchester 2008 that the Speedo LZR had caused a seismic shift in the extent to which suits aid speed, buoyancy and endurance. The riot of suits that went beyond the LZR in the wake of Beijing and the debate that ensued convinced FINA to do an about-turn: the suits were significant after all – and undesirably so.

The timing of the turn around was phased and swimming will continue to pay a price for the rest of 2009, it seems, though Rome 2009 may no longer be quite the circus it was heading towards. Some argue that a little performance enhancement is just as bad as a lot, in the sense that a smoker struggling to get off the weed may say ‘well, I’ll just one or five instead of 20 a day”.

Speaking to Nicole Jeffery at The Australian, Alan Thompson, head coach and a member of the FINA suits commission, said: ‘It’s a very tight time frame, it’s not ideal, but it’s better than a free-for-all.’ That ‘not ideal’ is a significant step. Thompson is a head coach to a Speedo LZR team and he says that is not ideal. He would rather be a head coach to a Speedo team that wears great equipment but equipment that does not detract from the achievements of swimmers and coaches.

Meanwhile, Grant Stoelwinder, coach to Eamon Sullivan – who set the 50m and 100m world records in the LZR last year – believed Rome 2009 would be ‘ a little bit fairer’ . He told Jeffery that Sullivan had been worried about having to race againt the Jaked01s and arena X-Glides of the world. In the same way, perhaps, that those sprinters who could not get access to a LZR for trials and championships and even the Olympic Games last year might have worried about a man who had re-written the record books in a LZR (legally, and that’s the difference, of course).

One ray of hope in the whole saga came in a message from arena. You might have thought that the Italians would have been somewhat angry that the X-Glide had been rejected. Instead, a note reads: ‘ fter all, a good day for the sport of swimming’. Now that is the spirit that we are looking for from suit makers. What we don’t want is any whining from those who would still be making boosters if they could get away with it. The message is clear: no more performance enhancement.


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