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Know Your Suits

Dec 4, 2008  - Craig Lord

Here's a little ray to brighten up your day to go alongside thoughts on the February meeting between suit makers and FINA. I've been doing a little homework. Sorry about that. I thought that the world of swimming might wish to know the names of the companies now wishing, hoping and actively seeking to place products on swimmers' skins. We know these folk: adidas; Arena; Diana; Speedo; and TYR. Been around for a while, and done much to support swimmers, coaches and federations. And some of you may know about some of the following, but probably not all of the folk heading to the FINA suit makers forum in February, intent on making their contribution to the future direction of the sport (descriptions of suits are taken from the websites of the companies) as prospective players in the race suit market:

Blueseventy: approved for use in all FINA events. "The nero comp swimskin was designed with only one thought in mind: speed. Designed to suit elite swimmers that want a swimskin that is aggressively fitted and super quick, the nero comp features a fiattened low resistance zipper, larger arm gussets, and a tighter overall fit to result in lower drag and improved speed. Features (include): Aggressive ultra light competition-inspired fit featuring a hidden low line racing zipper; Yamamoto SCS fabric with hydrophobic skin and a drag coefficient of only 0.032 (over 50 times lower than skin), that reduces friction drag through the water; helix technology improves fit and allows for a better swim stroke [COACHES REJOICE! OR MAYBE NOT...].

Nike: (with stock still to shift): cut through the water at high speed in the Nike Full Body Hybrid Swift Men's Swimsuit. Sleek and streamlined, this one-piece racing suit features Nike Swift fabric that's engineered for speed and zoned tension for a body-hugging fit, preventing air and water pockets that might slow you down. Silicone gasket seals to your form, preventing entry of water at the neckline and armholes. [MODEST THOSE CLAIMS BUT STILL A NOD TO SPEED, AN INDICATION TO THE BUYER THAT SUITS ARE DEVICES].

Reebok: Reebok's new swimwear line is finally here! These well–made competition suits are soon to be a staple in every swimmer's closet. This jammer is an old friend. It features a drawstring waist and a stripe of color down the sides. The material embodies unique properties, making it very difficult for bacteria and other microorganisms to grow. Your jammer will smell fresher and last longer! [OK, NO CLAIMS TO JET YOU INTO ORBIT THERE...BUt worth noting that on Reebok's worldwide portal and its online shop, there is no swimming presence. I'm sure someone will correct me if I'm wrong].

Agon Sport: (No full bodysuit as yet on their website): Our Knee Length Bodysuit is an excellent racing suit for competitions. It is available for men and women. [MOST RESPONSIBLE].

Asics: (I see no bodysuits. I do see this commitment): a commitment to "the provision of products and services that make sporting a fun experience for each customer while fulfilling our corporate social responsibility as a global corporation" and of "Raising the level of satisfaction of stakeholders ... our mission is to provide our customers with what they want. We put an emphasis on scientific verification in our manufacturing activities, along with listening to customers' voices ... we would appreciate your continued patronage in the future". [WHICH MEANS MAKING SUITS THAT COACHES AND FEDERATIONS FEEL HAPPY TO SIGN UP TO - AND SWIMMERS WEAR WITHOUT FEARING THAT THE NEXT LANE IS WEARING SOMETHIGN 'FASTER' - WHEN THE SMOKE AND ASHES OF 2008 HAVE SETTLED"]

Camaro: (Their swimwear and claim to have made the "world's first seamless suit" is aimed at the wetsuit market, it seems). A pool player? So far, not, perhaps. Their presence in Lausanne may indicate that they are yet another company heading for the pool brandishing neoprene - a flotation aid for many in the sport depending on your weight and other factors.

Descente: Put the word "swim" in the search on the Descente site and you get a message telling you "Your search did not yield any results". They have produced swimwear for the Japan team for a fair few years and have sponsored swimming since 1979. They did not figure as a visible force in Beijing, of course, after Kosuke's devastating LZR demonstration of how a suit can enhance your performance. The swimmer didn't doubt it - and his federation believed him.

Essenuoto: "High competition [suits for] op professionals, new complete range. Exclusive supersonic ‘water speed’ fabric improves power potential and hydrodynamic action to increase speed and performance. Studied by our designers to create the utmost fit for your future records. [SAYS IT ALL - THE SUIT NOW SETS THE RECORD ... DEAR OH DEAR].

Finis: Hydrospeed Race John: Designed specifically for competition to help swimmers achieve their top level of performance. Achieve greater mobility and comfort, gain better control and be more body-aware while you compete. HydroSpeed suits are comprised of a hollow-core Scalex material, which allows for less water absorption and makes HydroSpeed suits lighter and faster. An embossed, scale-like finish and additional water-repellant characteristics further reduce drag for increased speed. [MODEST BY COMPARISON TO SOME CLAIMS AND ONLY TOUCHING ON THOSE AREAS THAT MANY FEEL ARE PERFECTLY ACCEPTABLE IN THE DEVELOPMENT OF SUIT FABRICS]

Jaked: Thank god it comes in black, as Henry Ford might have said! This is the suit that we saw on the Olympic skins of the golden wonders (who won no gold) among Italian men suited to the tune of the Italian federation's misguided flight from the Arena stable. Jaked describes its J01 suit as being "more than skin": It comes from a new advanced technology constructive such as thermo-welding, that give the clothes the maximum comfort due to total absence of seams and a revolutionary material-based polyurethane for its incredible mechanical and dynamics provide, allowing the swimmer maximum fluid-dynamics in water, as well as a muscle compression that reduce the strain. Lightness, fit, flexibility and total indeformability over time are the uniqueness of the product. [INDEFORMABILITY? WOW. WHAT JAKED GETS RIGHT IS AN EMPHASIS ON COMPRESSION, NOT BUOYANCY. COMPRESSION FACTORS WOULD BE KEY TO A DOPING SUIT OF THE FUTURE].

Mizuno: the Might Line - Speed and form for all swimmers ... "swim faster than ever thanks to advanced technology from Mizuno". Not quite as fast as you would in a LZR, according to the most successful breaststroke swimmer in the history of the sport - a quadruple Olympic breaststroke champion no less. Mizuno has good reason to want to know where the boundaries of suit approvals will rest in the future.

Orca: another from the triathlon-wetsuit market. "Incorporating Orca's AirRelease technology; this breathable and water-proof membrane underarm system transfers heat from the suit to regulate the body temperature throughout a long-distance swim. The Orca 3.8 also utilises full ventral coverage of AirLite neoprene, making it the most buoyant wetsuit in the world". [WE TAKE IT THAT THAT GARMET IS NOT APPROVED FOR THE POOL...NEVER BE ALLOWED...WOULD IT?]

Rival: An Aussie triathlon outfit that makes no claims to boosting you into orbit as far as I can see

RocketScienceSports: I refer you to Mr Sochacki, a man none to keen on those he calls purists, a man who needs to understand more about the differences between nature, nurture and artificial aids that fly in the face of the FINA rule that states "no device shall aid speed, buoyancy or endurance".

Turbo: a confusing note on the website states that the US end of the business has been dissolved but that the swimwear business has been taken up by Agon Sport LLC and Crotton S.A. The company was geared largely to water polo. If these are the right folk, then Agon has two seats at the table in February.

Zootsports: "Influenced by the Zenith, the Synergy uses BIOwrap construction to pair 3mm high-flexibility zones with 5mm buoyancy. Our choices of materials and patterning offer maximum flexibility, flotation, and durability. Yamamoto SCS Nano finish is the most hydrodynamic wetsuit coating available, reducing the suit’s coefficient of friction by 97%. Yamamoto ... cell neoprene is the world’s most lightweight and low-density rubber, making the suit flexible, buoyant, and durable." [Yours for $400. A snip, what with all those meaningless world records to aim at and all. ALL THAT BUOYANCY THOUGH ... NEVER BE ALLOWED IN THE POOL. RIGHT?]

Beyond the above, I received the following note from the folk at Aquazone: "Greetings, AquaZone (a new swimwear manufacturer from Mexico), has a line of suits made out of the same material as the Blue Seventy.  In your article, the letter from the European Coaches mentioned that they were questioning why the suit was not approved by name. It is my understanding that FINA approves materials, so any swimwear manufacturer can use it to make suits."

Well, there you have it. Step this way. Pick your material, run up a suit and line up to race. Not the industry's fault. The industry will tell you so. As one senior FINA official put it: "We're in a terrible place where we can walk out to officiate at any given meet at have absolutely no idea what the swimmers are wearing. Apart from the obvious ones, I really wouldn't know one suit from another." There is no suit checking in the rules of FINA. The quick glance of the referee can lead to a DQ if the wrong suit is being worn. But so much for the quick glance down the line of blocks in a world where referees cannot tell one suit from another. It is the very reason why Jacco Verhaeren has felt so compelled to act in the Netherlands.