Controversy Swirls Around Bodysuit


Nikki Dryden

At the 1998 English Commonwealth Games Trials several swimmers raced in the new Adidas Teflon-Lycra bodysuit. The fabric reduces drag and compresses the body so that muscles do not move unnecessarily, thus saving energy. Those who swam fast and qualified for Commonwealths naturally wanted to wear the suit in Malaysia. None did because they were threatened; wear the suit and you're off the team.

The British and English swim teams are sponsored by Speedo. Unlike the US, most countries force their swimmers to wear a suit made by the team's sponsor. In America, a swimsuit is considered a piece of technical equipment so swimmers can wear a Nike suit even though the team is sponsored by Speedo. Throw in the official USA sponsor which in '96 was Reebok, and a swimmer like Tom Dolan wore a Nike swim suit in the pool, Speedo T-shirts and shorts on the deck, and a Reebok track suit on the podium. Confusing yes, but who says capitalism is simple.

Now, Speedo (who supposedly has a full body suit designed, but won't release it until Sydney, 2000) is fuming that Paul Palmer (GBR) wore an Adidas suit for his 400 free win on the opening day of the European Champs. But Speedo wasn't even at the meet to shake the finger at Palmer. Speedo, one of the main meet sponsors, withdrew all of its representatives from the meet for fear of terrorism. (Who cares that all their swimmers are still here braving the so-called terrorists.) On top of that, it was Speedo who developed a radical new fabric bodysuit just before the Atlanta Olympics. Following protests, FINA outlawed its use because they said it helped with flotation.

According to Jacquelin Magnay from The Sydney Morning Herald, visiting Aussie head coach Don Talbot had much to say on the suits. "I saw England's Sue Rolph in one and I thought she was in her pyjamas-but I will be going back to Australia and telling our swimmers that they should be wearing them." However, Talbot is concerned that the swimsuit manufacturers were drip-feeding the suits on to the market, in what he believed was a way to gain acceptance by swim officials slowly. But, he said, it was unfair that the suit was available to some - but not to others.

"If one gets it, everyone should. We should not be like the car-racing industry using different tire manufacturers," Talbot said. "I think the question should be asked again whether these suits show some advantage and FINA should make a ruling," Talbot said.

So, is that piece of paper the federations make all team members sign legally binding? Well until someone decides to take a stand against it in court, who knows? But with a major backer like Adidas or Nike, perhaps someone can win back a swimmer's right to make a living and swim as fast as they can. Pretty basic human rights one would think.