German swimmers clamoring to wear new swimsuits in Beijing


BERLIN -- German swimmers are concerned about a disastrous performance at the Beijing Olympics because they will be wearing the wrong swimsuits.

The country's Olympic trials have been overshadowed by the swimmers' demands to be allowed to compete in the Speedo LZR Racer. Twenty-two world records have been shattered in the high-tech suit since its February introduction.

The Germans say their medal chances are bleak at the Aug. 8-24 games unless they can wear Speedo instead of Adidas.

"The German swim federation has to seriously consider it, otherwise we will sink completely into mediocrity," Thomas Rupprath, one of Germany's top swimmers, said Saturday.

Rupprath lost his 50-meter backstroke world record two weeks ago to Liam Tancock, who swam in a Speedo. If you listen to U.S. head coach Mark Schubert, an outspoken supporter, that just shows every record could fall at the Beijing Games because of the suit.

But many swimmers, some contractually bound to other sportswear companies, argue that the Speedo is unfair and gives athletes added buoyancy in the pool. World governing swimming body FINA says no scientific evidence supports the claims and has refused to ban the LZR Racer.

Whether the German swimmers are disadvantaged against Speedo-clad rivals is real or not, coach Orjan Madsen thinks the belief is now firmly stuck in their heads and won't be easily dislodged.

"I don't believe the best psychologists in the world can accomplish that," Madsen said.

The swimming federation won't end a four-year contract with Adidas worth $6.2 million. It runs until 2009, with an option for the sportswear company to extend two more years.

"We won't break the contract. It's also a question of principles," federation general secretary Juergen Fornoff said.

Massimiliano Rosolino, an Italian who has won 17 medals in Olympics and world championships, is among those calling the suit unfair and a distortion of competition.

"It's not a matter of technology," said Rosolino, whose team wears Arena. "The matter is one suit has much more flotation. If I were to go out there in a scuba suit it wouldn't be fair either. There's something not right about it."

Despite the swimsuit debate, Germany set a pair of European records two days into its Olympic trials. Sarah Poewe swam 1 minute, 7.10 seconds in the 100 breaststroke and Helge Meeuw finished the men's 100 backstroke in 53.10.

Some Germans refuse to believe that the LZR Racer will bust every record and win every medal.

"I swim in Adidas and set my world record in the 100-meter freestyle in it two years ago," Britta Steffen said. "With all this discussion, people shouldn't forget the suit doesn't swim alone. Inside is a person that has a good or bad day, and trained well or badly."