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How Come Some Are Still At Sea On Suits?

Jul 19, 2010  - Craig Lord

News and Comment

Reports from Roberval, host to the FINA Open Water World Championships, have focussed on the concerns of federations over the timing of approval of suits and the distress of swimmers, including some of the biggest names in the sport, such as Thomas Lurz (GER) and Petar Stoychev (BUL) over the timing of approvals and the ban on zippers.

Dealing with zippers first, FINA's clarity appears to have fallen on blind eyes and deaf ears for a while now. In June at the FINA World Cup in Portugal a fair few swimmers wore suits with zippers (and some wore banned neoprene, we understand). Clearly officials should have asked the swimmers to go get changed - for FINA had been clear for quite some time, its swimsuit rules there for all to see at FINA.org since last year. They include:

(d) Construction

• No zippers or other fastening system is allowed

No distinction is made on that subject for open water swimmers - and yet the perception among a fair few in the sport was that zippers were fine. Those who may need to catch up, may wish to start by reading the rules of their sport. Some blame FINA for not having been clearer. In this case, however, perhaps their energies would be better spent looking in a mirror and asking: why didn't I find out, for the info was surely out there and not hidden in any way whatsoever. That said, I hasten to add, there are still those in the sport and in commanding positions who appear to wish confusion to reign, for reasons best known to themselves.

What we do know is this: 10 (models) new were added by FINA to the 2010 approved list in June, including open-water specific suits, namely: adidas Hydrofoil; Diana Submarine Vega; Jaked Shark. 

To add to the confusion of timing, the OW technical committee of FINA was handed a list of newly approved suits by FINA, sent to all feds, on July 15, a day before the gun went off in Canada. And today, at 8.11am, the FINA approved list was updated once more at FINA.org. What with, the reader cannot be sure of (updated info ought to be highlighted as such on a list that destined to change and grow), though in red highlights are 22 open-water only suits.

Among things we cannot confirm is the rumour from Roberval that swimmers raced in at least one of those "newly approved" suits, while others who wanted to were unable to do so. (The open question for FINA is one that ought to be easy to answer: when did the suits on your approved list make the list? Simple paper exercise, one would imagine). Many federations had imagined that any new suit that appeared 11th hour would have to be commercially available to all. That was not the cases with some suits used in Roberval, SwimNews understands. 

World champion and Olympic medallist Lurz is reported to be unhappy that the arena open-water suit that has just gained FINA approval was not available for him to wear in Canada. FINA sources point out that suits approved in the July round of approvals were NOT available for wearing in Roberval. They also noted, correctly, that any suit that has just gained approval would not be available for wearing in competition for some months, partly because of swimsuit rules adopted last year and partly because of production issues: suit makers are unlikely to repeat the mistake made by some last year of mass-producing suits that may not be approved for use. 

The banning before Roma09 world titles of the Jaked01 was, for example, a probable disaster for Italy and the Italian suit maker that sponsors the Italian federation. The Jaked01 then made it back on to the list of suits approved form use in Rome. This year, there are two Jaked suits approved for open-water only. At this stage, it is not clear whether they were approved in spring or summer approval rounds, with some suggesting that those suits have been "available" since April, some swimmers and federations saying that they had not heard of at least one suit until the eve of racing in Roberval and that that suit was certainly not widely available. 

In the confusion, one thing is certain, say many: such uncertainty should never have been allowed to take hold.

On the eve of racing in Roberval, Lurz was quoted in the German media as saying that the suits issue for open water swimmers was still chaotic and needed clarification. "We do not know, immediately before the world championships, as yet, in which suits we should swim," Lurz told the German media. "The world federation seems unable to tell us, again and that's a problem."

A problem indeed, one of substance and communication. What is unfolding for Shanghai 2011 world titles is the right way to go, the way spelled out in FINA rules approved last summer: no suit that has not gained approval by end of August 2010, been published on FINA's list and then been made commercially available to all by January 1, 2011 at the latest will be allowed come FINA world titles in China in 2011. Plenty of time for swimmers, coaches, federations and officials to prepare (and lodge protests if the need should arise).