Evans: Suits make sport a 'mockery'
ROME -- Janet Evans, one of swimming's greatest stars, said Wednesday she was deeply troubled by the controversy over high-tech suits and believes it threatens to make "a mockery of the sport."
In a telephone interview with The Associated Press from her southern California home, Evans said governing body FINA needs to act quickly to get rid of suits that aid buoyancy, a trend that began with the Speedo LZR Racer and has continued with attire produced by companies such as Arena and Jaked, which have suits that are 100 percent polyurethane.
"Basically, it's technical doping," said Evans, who swam in the era when East German women were her most formidable opponents, a group later exposed as being part of a massive, state-sponsored doping operation.
Evans said there should be some mention in the record book of marks set before buoyancy-aiding suits were allowed in the sport, while not taking away the records set by swimmers in the current attire. Such a move would restore recognition for one of her records, a 19-year-old mark in the 800-meter freestyle that fell to Britain's Rebecca Adlington in a LZR at the Beijing Olympics.
The winner of four gold medals and one silver in her Olympic career, Evans stressed that she's not trying to put one of her own records back on the books, but said she felt compelled to speak out as she watched one record after another fall at the world championships in Rome.
A staggering 22 world marks have already been set through the first four days of the meet, with four days of competition still remaining. Fifteen marks were set at the last worlds in 2007 and 25 records fell at the 2008 Olympics.
"It's kind of hard to watch," said Evans, who is expecting her second child in the next month. "I go online in the morning and I laugh. I actually find myself laughing. It's so out of control."
Evans is especially sensitive to records set by means other than a swimmer's natural ability and training because of what she went through with the East Germans.
"It's different but similar," she said. "I always believe the East German women were doing what they were trained to do. I'm not going to say it was the right thing, but they worked hard and did their best. They were just pawns of the state. You can't necessarily cut them out of the record book. That never made sense to me. I thought those women still needed a little credit."
Likewise, Evans doesn't want to diminish the accomplishments of a swimmer such as Germany's Paul Biedermann, who beat Ian Thorpe's seven-year-old world record in the 400 freestyle and knocked off Michael Phelps in the 200 freestyle with a record swim in Rome.
"We need to kind of start over again," she said. "But I don't think we need to take away from what the athletes have done now. They're out there racing and swimming and doing the best they can. It's similar to me and the East Germans."
Evans reserved her harshest comments for FINA, saying it should put the swimmers' interests first and quit catering to swimsuit companies that are mainly concerned with improving their share of the marketplace. She just recently completed a stint with the organization as chair of the athletes commission and said many of her suggestions "fell on deaf ears."
"The fact that FINA can do this is making a mockery of these times and these swimmers," she said. "It doesn't put the athletes first, and that's the most important thing at the end of the day."
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press