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Speedo Sheds Tears For Its LZR Racer

Jul 25, 2009  - Craig Lord

Speedo has acknowledged the "catastrophic" effect of suit wars but in a statement (in full at the foot of this article) issued today that seeks to set its LZR Racer suit apart from all others that will be banned from January 1, 2010. 

A spokesman from arena (see foot of this article for full statement) says that the Italian maker is happy that the voice of the global swimming community of nations has finally been heard and believes that the FINA decision has offered relief. However, it also notes that what it calls a dramatic roll back may affect strategic investment in federations and would have preferred an intermediate stage in the process of ridding the sport of performance-enhancement in suits.

Speedo, silent for some time now, suggests that its LZR "has had an unprecedented positive impact on the sport of swimming since its launch". Many beg to differ. The LZR opened the Pandora's Box that led to what we see in Rome over the next eight days at world championships. The LZR led to the need for FINA to insist that one particular suit must be "available to all" at the Olympic Games via a pick-up tent and that move destroyed many a contract twixt federation, swimmers and other suit makers. The LZR boosted performance to a truly significant degree in 2008. The LZR began the process of transfiguring the world rankings beyond recognition.

Speedo is right to note that what followed it was far worse still. But two wrongs don't make a right and 168 nations, led by the USA, which wears Speedo as its official kit, have spoken: we don't want bodysuits and we don't want the use of non-textiles.

A forward-looking company will doubtless be able to cope with the much-improved competition conditions that will be delivered to swimmers in 2010. Speedo says that the LZR does not aid buoyancy. Rule SW10.7 (which will specifically name the swim suit by the end of September) cites "speed" too. The LZR most definitely does aid speed, by the very admission of Speedo in its own literature and its own "science".

We all know the truth. Australia does, the USA does. And the aquatic superpowers have spoken. They want an end to textiles and any suit that can overshadow the athletic achievement of athletes. Speedo's main man, Michael Phelps, said yesterday "I like it", of FINA's decision. No wonder.  Tragic that anyone should need to call into question a single one of the achievements of the greatest Olympian in history. And yet they have because of a suit.

Speedo talks about turning the clock back 20 years. Not quite. Just over 10 in fact. The trouble with referring to turning back the clock is that it takes no account of the fact that world has changed. The world, if you embrace apparel of the kind we have seen in the race pool of late, can be a deeply problematic place. Any bodysuit, even a textile one, can be engineered to enhance performance to a significant degree, and the more of the body you cover, the more you open up the possibility of performance enhancement through biofeedback. 

Such dangers will be all too real in the very near future. And when such forces are able to be harnessed in a clever way for potential use in sport, it will be some time after their introduction before such things are understood enough to be able to control them with a simple line in a rule book. Assuming, that is, that they will ever be able to be controlled by a rule book.  

This may not be an easy time for one of the biggest supporters of swimming in history. Certainly not an easy time for some of the others suit makers in the mix either. It is heartening to hear that at such a time, it commits to this:

"For over 80 years, we have taken a lead role in supporting the sport from grass roots all the way to elite levels. We have been responsible for every major ‘legal’ innovation in swimwear since 1928. Speedo remains totally dedicated to the sport of swimming at every level." 

The Speedo Statement in full:

Speedo is fully committed to safeguarding the reputation of the sport of swimming at every level and for this reason we will await a confirmation from FINA about their final decision regarding approved swimwear rules for 2010 before making further comment.

However, we would like to re-iterate that Speedo has always operated within the rules of the sport and will continue to do so, investing in research and development to ensure that we continue to lead the way in high performance swimwear that meets the approval of both the governing body and the most important people, the athletes themselves.

As a forward thinking company, that has invested millions in R&D, we believe that technology - properly monitored and adhering to guidelines - does have a place in all sport. Any move which seems to take the sport back two decades - such as a possible return to the traditional female swimsuit and male jammer - is a retrograde step that could be detrimental to the future of swimming.   

We recognise the catastrophic effect and controversy that the introduction of fully non-permeable wetsuits by certain manufacturers has had on the sport of swimming in recent months.  Speedo has always believed that there is no place in the sport for buoyancy aids. We were and remain highly supportive of FINA’s Dubai Charter which recommended the banning of these suits from January 2010, whilst allowing some elements of non-permeable materials.

The Speedo LZR Racer suit, which was developed in strict accordance with FINA rules and regulations and fully approved by FINA in 2007, has had an unprecedented positive impact on the sport of swimming since its launch. Developed over a three year period with the input of over 400 swimmers, coaches and experts, the swimming community by and large welcomed the benefits the suit brings whilst recognising that it upheld the integrity of athletes as it does not aid buoyancy. 

For over 80 years, we have taken a lead role in supporting the sport from grass roots all the way to elite levels. We have been responsible for every major ‘legal’ innovation in swimwear since 1928. Speedo remains totally dedicated to the sport of swimming at every level. 

End of Speedo statement

An arena spokesman said:

"For sure, it is time that the swimming world made its voice heard. So, we can't say that its bad for swimming. We believe that Congress will now hold the FINA executive to account.

"That said, we are truly sorry to note that not having listened to the warnings when they could have, they have now gone to a solution that is maybe too strong.

"The roll back could be dangerous for an investment standpoint and it could be that there is less scope for federation contracts. We have to look at the strategic impact of this.

We are relieved to have heard the voice of the swimming family but feel that an intermediate solution would have been better and had a less dramatic effect on us as a manufacturer."