Swimmers might have to choose between sponsor or faster Speedo

Updated: April 12, 2008, 6:59 PM ET
Associated Press

MANCHESTER, England -- Speedo's record-breaking suit has been backed twice in one week by the sport's governing body, leaving swimmers with tough choices.

Enter the pool in Beijing in four months with a swimsuit that might lead to slower times, or break with a long-standing sponsor to go for Olympic gold in Speedo's LZR Racer?

[+] EnlargeMichael Phelps
AP Photo/Kathy WillensOlympic medalists Amanda Beard, left, Michael Phelps and Natalie Coughlin pose in the high technology Speedo LZR Racer swimsuits they will wear during the Beijing Summer Olympics.

"I'm going to wear the Speedo at the Olympics," South Africa captain Gerhard Zandberg told The Associated Press on Saturday at the short-course world championships. "I'm not going to sacrifice performance."

Zandberg, who is sponsored by Arena, acknowledges he'll be fined $4,750, but said Olympic gold is worth much more.

The International Swimming Federation (FINA) met with manufacturers on Saturday with the stated intent to review future approval of new suits. It turned into a debate about the suit that has taken over the record books in less than two months.

There have been 19 long-course world marks set since Speedo's LZR Racer suit was introduced in February. Twelve additional world marks have been established through three days at these championships. All but one of the records have come with swimmers wearing the LZR.

Zandberg wore an Arena suit when he set a personal best in the 50-meter breaststroke semifinals Saturday. He will continue to wear Arena if the Italian manufacturer produces a suit comparable to Speedo's.

Filippo Magnini, the two-time world champion in the 100 freestyle, is one of the top swimmers sponsored by Arena. He tested a new Arena prototype suit Saturday and may use it in the 100 final Sunday.

"The [Speedo] helps a lot," he said. "We've got to get something similar. We all have to have the same conditions, and if FINA doesn't [regulate] it, the athletes will do it ourselves."

Arena is a chief sponsor of the Italian team.

"I don't think any federation can force anyone to wear a certain suit," Magnini said.

Others who may be rethinking their options include four prominent Americans sponsored by Nike -- Brendan Hansen, Aaron Piersol, Jason Lezak and Kaitlin Sandeno. U.S. coach Mark Schubert has said he will tell every swimmer on his team to wear Speedo at the U.S. trials.

Olympic champion Laure Manaudou of France also uses Arena, while the Japanese wear Mizuno.

After the meeting with manufacturers, FINA said it had "confirmed that all the swimsuits approved so far are complying with the specifications."

Speedo critics suit cite illegal levels of buoyancy and call it "technological doping" because it combines a polyurethane layer with a layer of normal fabric. But FINA's rules say "different fabrics can be used in one swimsuit."

"We always play by the rules," Stephen Rubin, chairman of Speedo holding company Pentland, told the AP. "As far as we're concerned, there is nothing wrong with our swimsuit."

Arena Group chief executive Cristiano Portas is the leading opponent of the LZR. He takes the word "fabric" to mean the prohibition of polyurethane, or plastic-type, material used in the LZR.

"I have to acknowledge that the other manufacturers had a broader understanding," Portas said. "The most important thing was to clarify the rules."

Australian standout Grant Hackett was in Manchester as a spectator Saturday and held a news conference for his sponsor, Speedo.

"I think what this suit is doing is taking away from the performances of athletes that have worked hard," he said. "They're the ones that deserve credit."

Hackett points to the evolution of sports equipment.

"They're not using tennis rackets from 50 years ago," he said. "Lance Armstrong's bike isn't 50 years old. Even if I put on a pair of Michael Jordans, I still can't dunk well. It's the same with these suits. They don't make you swim faster.

A few moments later, Hackett contradicted himself.

"Of course, the suit contributes to performance," he said. "That's why they're there. Throughout history, all suits have contributed to performance."


Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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