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Nothing Is Sacred In A Bodysuit

Jul 29, 2009  - Craig Lord

Rome 2009, Day 4 Overview 

Michael Phelps swam back into familiar waters at the world championships in Rome tonight: after suffering a bruising loss in the 200m freestyle yesterday, the greatest Olympian of all time cracked out a 1min 51.51 world record to take gold in the 200m butterfly. He had not meant to make a point about the difference in suits, said Phelps later, but by wearing the same leggings-only Speedo LZR suit in which he raced to five of his gold medals in Beijing last year, the world champion highlighted the vast difference in levels of "technology" in the race pool.

Here's what Phelps had to say.

A day after being soundly defeated by Paul Biedermann, a German who wore an arena X-Glide, Phelps swam one world record passed the biggest ever tally of global standards held by one swimmer: with 34 credits, he now has one more than Mark Spitz, winner of seven gold medals at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, the best single Olympic performance before Phelps's pieces of eight in Beijing.

 Getting past Spitz on that occasion and now on world-record tally is tainted by the presence of a suit, the Speedo LZR, that Phelps and his coach Bob Bowman want banned from January 1, 2010. Bowman has also called for FINA, the international federation, to set aside and mark as "artificially aided" a surreal tally of 158 world records set since the LZR was launched in February 2008. Such a move would wipe out 11 of Phelps's standards.

Biederman backed Phelps's boycott plans today and added his name to the list of those who would be happy to see their assisted records set aside. 

 If the number of Americans, Australians and Britons who complained about the LZR and its polyurethane panels could be counted on one hand last year as records started to tumble, it is hard to find any who now want to keep the first non-textile race suit to be allowed into the race pool. For after the LZR's success, new players flooded the suit market with 100% polyurethane apparel that traps air and serves as a truly significant aid to speed, buoyancy and endurance.

 Tonight in Rome, SwimNews has learned from sources at the helm of FINA, the international swimming federation, that suit makers are pressing for a delay of up to nine months in a decision taken last week by 168 nations to return to textile-only shorts for men and a cut above the knee for women by January 1, 2010. 

 The source said: "Speedo is telling federations around the world to lobby the FINA executive to allow bodysuits without a cut in profile, otherwise they will not have the money to invest as much in federations. Basically, they are saying: if we suffer, you suffer." The source confirmed that FINA has also received begging letters from "at least five suit makers" calling for more time to meet the new demand expected for a new range of suits from each producer. The time demands range from May to September next year.

The truth is that any delay would be there to try to help suit makers clear current stock. But who will buy something that is either good for two wears before a tear or is cut in a style that will soon be extinct. The suit makers must surely know that now is the time to bite the bullet.

And FINA must surely know  that the past six months have shown that suit makers, told that change was on it way, as they were, took a matter of 6-8 weeks to pump out a wide range of plastic fantastics. It must surely be easier to produce a garment that could hardly be described as “high-tech”.

The FINA executive announced yesterday that the FINA Bureau would honour the wishes of Congress but would delay enforcement of the new rules until “April or may at the latest”. However, as pressure grows from suit makers on one side, it is surely about to grow among swimmers and coaches on the other side. 

A source on a Speedo-sponsored team told SwimNews: “I know that Speedo already has huge stocks of textile briefs and other suits. I don’t understand why they would need a delay. Let’s face it, no-one is now going to buy suits that they know are on the way out.”

One of those who will not care less when all of this is gone from the race pool is Michael Phelps, who set his world record in the same leggings he wore last summer. A day after being beaten by German Paul Biedermann and his bodysuit in the 200m freestyle while wearing the bodysuit of his own sponsor, Phelps was one of seven swimmers to set global marks tonight. He wiped more than a half-second off his previous world mark, which was set under duress in Beijing: on his way to a 1:52.03 victory, Phelps sprang a leak in his goggles and raced with water lapping around his eyes.

There could hardly have been a more appropriate record-drenched place for Phelps to add another record to his resume: Rome will go down as having witnessed the record to end all records on records. The tally is now 22, at the half-way point of eight days of racing, compared with a previous record of 16 marks set at the inaugural world championships back in 1973.

The rush picked up again this morning with a massive best time and world record of 2:04.14 by Mary Descenza, of the US, in the heats of the 200m butterfly. The evening finals session started with back-to-back world records in the semi-finals of the 50m backstroke, first for German Daniela Samulski, on 27.39, and then Russian Anastasia Zueva, on 27.38. 

The biggest cheer of the night from the Roman crowd was reserved for local hero Federica Pellegrini as she won the 200m freestyle crown in 1:52.98. Next up was South Africa's Cameron van der Burg, on 26.67sec to win the 50m breaststroke title. Even the pool commentator, who has played a straight bat so far (can't see him so there's no way of telling whether he's keeping a straight face at this stage in the flood), could not help himself: "Annnnd, yes, there goes another one," he said as he talked the South African in.  

The evening ended with China's Zhang Lin taking an axe to what had been rightly seen as a monumental 800m freestyle standard held by Grant Hackett, of Australia. 

Zhang, coached by Hackett's former mentor, Denis Cotterel in Australia, wiped 6sec off the world mark for a 7:32.12 victory in a race that saw Oussama Mellouli, Olympic 1,500m champion ahead of Hackett last year, join his Chinese rival inside the previous global target. David Davies, of Britain, finish fifth the zillionth national record to fall since Feb 2008, of 7:44.32, and said: "They cranked it up and I just could not get there. I looked up at the scoreboard at the end and was in shock [at Zhang's time]. It is unbelievable."

That could be said of the whole championships, where nothing is sacred in a bodysuit.