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Horter: FINA Temple In Danger Of Burning To Ground

Apr 25, 2009  - Craig Lord

Lionel Horter, France head coach, today speaks with sadness about the effect the fast suits issue is having on swimmers, including his personal charge Amaury Leveaux, a swimmer who now suffers a "suits psychosis". 

"He had lost before he got in the water," Horter tells L'Equipe after watching Leveaux finish fourth in the 100m free final won by Fred Bousquet in 47.17, 1.33sec faster than his 2008 and career best.  Leveaux has withdrawn from the 200m freestyle at nationals but will race the 50m free, for which he is already pre-selected for Rome world championships 2009.

"I was in Rome 1994 among the doped Chinese and I have the same sinking feeling today ... in just a few hours everything descended into chaos. A fault line has opened under the feet of swimmers. There are no rules anymore," Horter laments.

Reporter Benoit Lallement asks: "The parallels with doping are strong"? "That's the feeling I've had for the past 48 hours, the worst of my career," says Horter with a nod to a French pool floating on Jaked and an assortment of other suits that enhance performance in a truly significant way, as they have been doing elsewhere in the world. "I don't say that those who are using these suits are cheats, they are victims of FINA's lack of direction," says Horter.

Leveaux could have worn a new TYR with more bells and whistles but chose not to, was torn by the decision but wanted to call a halt somehow. Leveaux lost and saw Bousquet in a Jaked crack out a time that is clearly not only of his own making. As Horter, coach to both men on the national team, put it: "Fred's a committed boy, with a long and fine career. But a progression of that nature, at his age, like so many progressions we're seeing, has been helped by the fabric."

As for Bernard's 46.96 and the wearing on an Arena X-Glide not yet approved by FINA, Horter says: "I put myself in his shoes. Having broken the world record, he can prepare for the world championships with a calm spirit. That was a good decision. And then racing in a traditional suit (2007-08 model) in the final [47.51] showed true strength."

Asked if the chaos could not have been avoided, Horter says that the federation in France and director of performance Christian Donze debated the matter at length and thought that it would be impossible to ban kind of suit when FINA has approved it. The decision had been taken in an atmosphere of confusion and pressure, which stemmed from FINA having dragged its heels too long after having made the mistake of opening the door to an equipment-based sport. Horter had also sided with those who said "let it be - we can't do anything".

"What I have seen here," said Horter in Montpellier, "performances above the norm in that suit [Jaked], is new to me." Of course, he saw Leveaux do something similar by blowing away three world s/c records in Rijeka in a poisoned pool last December. In private conversation at the time, he acknowledged that the TYR suit had played a role in the times that Leveaux had clocked. 

With each passing meet, more and more coaches and swimmers are placing private thoughts and conversations into the public domain as more and more chaos becomes evident. It is now obvious to many more than the line having been crossed by the LZR in February 2008, suit makers have interpreted FINA's stance as one that grant them eternal permission to seek out the next miracle suit. And seek it they will. And hand it out in large numbers they will. And sell it in large numbers they will. And make vast profits, they will. And ruin the sport, they will.

And if Horter had known before the championships what would unfold, would his answer to the question "what should we do" have been different, asks Lallement. "I would have answered differently," says Horter.

The sport was now in the hands of FINA's decisions. Swimming has reached a critical watershed. As Horter puts it today: "...if, given what we have seen with suits,  swimmers become racing drivers, I will need to go off and do something else, because I don't know how to coach racing drivers. We're in a delirium. I will not sacrifice my life for this, for a situation in which the best suit wins. I am sick of it."

Turning to biblical reference, he added: "We have opened swimming up to the merchants of the temple. We should be careful to see that the temple doesn't burn to the ground".

Bravo! Lionel Horter. Bravo! Bravo L'Equipe for your coverage. FINA take heed: if the independent testing leaves these suits in the water (2008 and 2009 generations of various brands), not only will those tests be widely viewed as having been a sham but the positions of those who govern the sport will be untenable. The sport of swimming as we knew it will have been drowned. Suffocation for those who govern the impostor sport will surely follow.