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Why Ruin Rome With A(nother) Lie?

May 17, 2009  - Craig Lord

Guess what? Fred Bousquet, the first suit under 21sec over 50m free, wants FINA to approve his controversial red Jaked speedster for use at the world championships in July. 

Aaron Peirsol was among those at the Charlotte UltraSwim in the US last night who compared such suits to the nightmare of the GDR years, when a rotten doping-supercharged regime dominated events in the pool. 

Easy to understand both points of view: why would Fred want to give up something that makes him over half a second better than Cullen Jones mid-season with nothing to prove and while racing 0.39sec off his world-record pace? Why would Peirsol wish to go to a world championships at which he will encounter such absolute unfairness and be forced to don another performance  enhancing suit if he is to have a hope of retaining his world crown?

Three weeks after setting a ludicrous world record of 20.94 in a Jaked by axing an indecent amount off the best time he had previously shown himself capable of in almost 10 years of a senior career in which seven of those years had him swimming in a 1sec margin (now he is 1sec, on one length, faster than that average down the years), Bousquet won the 50m at the Charlotte meet in 21.33, now equal to his fifth-best effort ever.

Context was found by Peirsol: "If records are being broken at this time of year, it's probably the suit.  It might be like East Germany in the 1980s - eventually the records will get broken. A lot of really, really good records are being taken down by people you have never heard of."

Which is why the suits should go. And now - at least in terms of Rome. The records books may be mashed but that is something that can be dealt with simply: just as lines have been drawn in record books in the past, with global marks slower in many events for a few years after 50m pools became the only size of tank acceptable for world records to be set in, so lines can be drawn again and the sport can move on.

But why spoil the world championships? If Fred and others are so convinced that their suits make no difference and that in 2010, minus the suit, Fred can get below 21sec (while talking now of 20.6 as his obscene target for Rome), then surely it would be easy to hand the suit in and say "no, I don't need it, I'll swim in briefs or a body from 2007, no problem - this is all down to me, my hard work and talent and the work of coaches and others".

Of course, he will say and do no such thing, because the suit is truly significant. And he knows it. After donning his red booster for that 21.33 ahead of Cullen Jones, on a bygone 21.92, and Trinidad’s US-based George Bovell, on a slouchy 22.01 (Michael Phelps swam heats and clocked 23.24 but did not take up his place in the final), the Frenchman said: "I'm very happy. I put a lot of emotion into it," Bousquet said. "I was shooting for 21.33. I'm very happy to be right on that time. I was hoping for 21.3 but 21.6, 21.7 would have been decent for me. I'm not trying to put any limit on it. Now it's more a matter of winning than going fast. But if it takes 20.6 or 20.7 to win at world championships, I hope to be there."

Bousquet provides the following reason for wanting to keep his suit for Rome: "A lot of swimmers are speculating. That's what's going on on the deck. We hope to have the suit for the world championships. Making such a big change so close to the world championships for sure would be bad."

What, like making a big change of the kind that has happened on numerous occasions from one week to the next with the launch of new suits from the LZR onwards? And what of this issue of availability. We know that some of the "fastest" suits of the season will NOT be available to all. In the past three days, I have received word from five different programmes that their efforts to get hold of particular suits have failed. So, Fred, how fair is that? Fred may not see it that way. After all, he has been surrounded by swimmers and coaches - in France and Auburn - who have got their hands on the fast track of the moment and had exploited it to maximum effect.

"After December 31, it will be all over for these type of suits. But all the manufacturers will be working from there to make a better suit. Next year, even if the suit is banned, I'll be able to go under 21," says Bousquet. Not in a pair of briefs you wouldn't. Not in an FS-Pro or that generation of suit you wouldn't. 

Peirsol knows it well: "I just don't want to see the integrity of the sport compromised. You want to see people race people, not the suit next to them."

Bousquet considers what Peirsol has to say an insult to himself and countryman Alain Bernard, who set a 100 free world record of 46.94 seconds last month in the suit that Peirsol may wear in Rome if FINA approve it at a meeting tomorrow in Lausanne. No mention of the insult felt by legions in the sport who have had to watch a mockery being made of swimming. No mention of the insult that is the suggestion that somehow Fred, who lived and raced in the days of Alex Popov yesterday, is doing things that make the Russian and Gennadi Touretski look like incompetent fools when it comes to sprint coaching, and all those other daft arguments that tell us that between 2007 and 2008 there was a sudden seismic shift in sprint training knowledge.

"I feel like I'm back home in France. That's all they talk about. It's really annoying," Bousquet said. "Every time someone swims great, it's the suit. Before the suit, people were saying it was drugs. If he's going fast he has to be taking drugs, people were speculating. It makes it tough."

Bousquet raises the issue of doping. That is still relevant in the pool, of course. Questions remain. Such as why would a group of world-class swimmers be present at a training pool-free facility in a remote, largely non-swimming country, when anti-doping agents passed through on their way to catching several cheating weightlifters that were subsequently banned for use of performance-enhancing substances? Why would swimmers wish to go on camp at a facility with no swimming pool and located in such a remote place that it took anti-doping agents several hours to find and the use of 4x4 vehicles to get to? Some things just strike one as being a little odd.

Some things are obvious: the suits are dominating all discussion and are clouding all performance (not just the world records and breakers but swims right through the world rankings 300 deep). There is an easy solution, Fred et al: if the suit matters not, then stand up in a pair of briefs and show us what you can do. Stand up in Rome in an FS-Pro or other 2007 model and show us what you can do. The reason all of France is talking about it Fred is because no-one believes it anymore. Swimming is living a lie. 

"Suits are improving. We're improving our training," Bousquet said. "I would rather people be amazed with our great swims. Guys step up every day and work hard. I'm the same person before I put on the suit. It takes away from us all." Easy solution Fred: ditch the suit and show us what you can do.

No, Fred, you are not the same person without the suit you are in. No way. Absolutely no way. And the longer swimmers continue to allow such lies to spoken, the less respect they will gain. The longer swimmers like Fred continue to utter such words, the longer the world beyond swimming will continue to vote for Mr Bolt as 2008 world athlete of the year when, of course, it should have been Michael Phelps. 

 Why did Bolt get the vote, a leading official asked of those organising the vote? Because Phelps wore a suit that made it all possible, came back the reply. Logic and knowledge are woefully absent in that view. However, swimming will continue to be regarded as a joke as long as swimmers are wearing the ridiculous performance booster than Fred insists on wearing while claiming it makes no difference.

That hurts not only swimmers but the great work of coaches, such as Bob Bowman, who said: "Some of the times are not normal. Hopefully FINA will get it all straightened out."

Getting it straightened out means managing Rome in a way that renders redundant the fiasco the sport is living through. There is nothing of a legal nature to prevent FINA from imposing a by-law for the world championships which states that "for the next eight days, only suits approved for use in Melbourne 2007 are permitted so that direct comparison can be made, so that the championships can unfold with integrity, so that fairness can be restored on the occasion of a show that is FINA's biggest asset." It can be done. It should be done if FINA are good guardians of the sport of swimming. And Fred, of course, would be delighted: because he would get to wear a suit that he has worn lots of times before last year and will be confident in the knowledge that he can show us a sub-21sec swim without his red booster. 

In Charlotte, Ryan Lochte, who lost his 200m back world record - by 1.08sec - last week to Ryosuke Irie of Japan, wore briefs in Charlotte and said: "It's just crazy this technology, how far it has gone."

Meanwhile some swimming: Peirsol won the 100m back in 53.32, a tough ahead of Phelps, on 53.79, with Nick Thoman third in 54.76 and Lochte fourth in 55.13. 

 Dagny Knutson took the 400m free in 4:09.60, 0.12sec ahead of Olympic silver medallist Katie Hoff.  The men's 400m went to Peter Vanderkaay in 3:46.04, with his Wolverine training partners  Tyler Clary and Matt Patton next best on 3:55.06 and 3:55.88 respectively.

The 50m free went to Amanda Weir in 25.32. Mary DeScenza won the 200m butterfly in 2:09.25 and then took on Elizabeth Beisel in the 100m back. Beisel got the touch in 1:01.62, to  DeScenza's 1:02.12, with Elizabeth Pelton third in 1:02.21. Eric Shanteau took the 200m breaststroke in 2:09.71, while the 200m breaststroke for women went to Laura Sogar in 2:30.93.