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Stoelwinder Joins The Anti-Fast-Suit Chorus

Dec 28, 2008  - Craig Lord

Grant Stoelwinder, Australian coach to sprinter Eamon Sullivan, has joined the chorus of those calling for action on suits in the interests of fair play and athletes and coaches whose work is being undermined by performance-enhancing suit technology.

He tells AAP that swimming must roll back the clock on suit technology and acknowledges that such a move could put some world records out of reach for more than a decade.

Stoelwinder believes that the Speedo LZR Racer, the suit that led the sport into technological overdrive, shaves about 0.3 of a second off times per length compared to previous suits. An enormous advance on the clock. He also expresses concern that the latest bloom of wetsuit lookalikes and the widespread practice of wearing multiple outfits was taking the battle started by the LZR on apace.

"The suits do make a difference and now we are getting to a point where some suits are starting to make a lot more of a difference," he told AAP. "I don't fool myself for one second as a coach and the trouble is as coaches some people think that swimmers are improving and you have to put it at about .3 per 50 with the Speedo suit on and I think some of them are even more."

One of Stoelwinder's new pupils in Sydney is Libby Trickett, who has said she feels there is no problem and no need to roll back on suits. Perhaps the coach can now persuade one of the world's fastest sprinters that she is fast becoming a minority.

 Stoelwinder says he would be happy with pre-2008 technology to be used in Rome 2009 before a longer-term solution is put in place - music to the ears of those who have been pressing for change, and a useful guideline for FINA to consider at its February 20 meeting with the world of swimming, including suit makers.

"I would be really happy with that because we have now got to that point," Stoelwinder said. "But how do we check, do we need referees in the marshalling area making sure there is not two suits underneath? I never knew of it being done before (the Olympics), it is a can of worms that has been opened. We have to get some control for the credibility of our athletes, we have hugely talented athletes and the suits did make them swim unbelievably fast. Their credibility as athletes was being taken away because people were going `oh it is the suits'."

Stoelwinder believes that banning suits approved for competition this year would quickly put an end to the unprecedented levels of record breaking that followed the LZR's launch in February. "It might be even longer (than ten years) for some because we saw some of those marks that were around for so long that were broken - Janet Evans' world record and (Alex) Popov's world records," he said.

 There is no appetite in the pool for erasing the records of 2008, though many now refer to pre-February 2008 world records as being the last true measure of performance without the significant aid of suit technology. When the full and terrible extent of the GDR systematic doping regime were confirmed in the early 1990s and reinforced in German doping trials before a new Millennium dawned, the record books were left in place. Gradually, old doping standards were replaced. So it would be with fast-suit records, and, as the Australian coach notes, there is no undoing a set of result sheets from this year that would undoubtedly have been different but for the arrival of fast-suit technology that benefits some more than others.

"Do we work out what the ratio is, I don't think we can do that, unfortunately we are sort of stuck in a hard place at the moment and maybe some athletes might not have won gold medals that won gold medals," Stoelwinder said. "Probably a lot of things might have been different."

On the wetsuit lookalikes that have made it to the pool, Stoelwinder says: "Now you have all these cowboys coming from everywhere."

February 20 is the time and place at which such folds and warps in swimming history can be ironed out to the best of the sport's ability.