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How To Cut WR Coat According To 2010 Cloth

Sep 15, 2009

By Craig Lord and Phil Whitten

The board of the World Swimming Coaches Association has called for a line to be drawn in the world records book so that standards from January 1, 2010 can reflect competition conditions when bodysuits and non-textile fabrics will be barred from the elite race pool.

In 2008 and 2009, the use of so-called high-tech suits made partly (2008 models) or wholly (2009 models) of non-textile suits led to the breaking of almost 200 world records. In eight days alone at the world championships in Rome, 43 new global standards were set in a 40-event programme. The previous high at a world championship had been 16, in 1973, from 29 events.

Many fear that the non-textile records are so fast compared to the best efforts ever seen in textile suits that it could be many years before anyone can challenge world-record pace. For example, no woman clean of doping or wearing textile suit has ever raced inside 2mins 10sec over 200m medley. The world record stands to Ariana Kukors, world champion for the US in Rome in July, at 2:06.15.

Coaches attending the American Swimming Coaches Association World Clinic in Fort Lauderdale at the weekend are keen to avoid having the record book serve as a disincentive to swimmers as they strive to improve and set career goals. The WSCA board voted unanimously in favour of a suggestion arrived at with the help of SwimNews.

Eighteen months of turmoil on suits followed FINA's permission for the use of polyurethane in race suits. But in July, amid widespread protest among coaches and swimmers and heavy criticism from media around the world, the international federation voted at Congress to impose new suit rules that allow textile-only suits and insist on a specific cut of suit: men will wear anything from briefs to jammers; women will wear a suit from shoulder strap to a cut above the knee, with no zippers or fasteners allowed.

The world-records model that coaches would like to see FINA adopt was presented to the board of WSCA by Craig Lord and Phil Whitten in Fort Lauderdale last Saturday. The model reflects that suggested by SwimNews back in July and was arrived at independently by the two journalists as they sought a sensible solution to the issue.

As explained by the two journalists last Saturday: “The three things that make this solution particularly attractive are (1) precedent - FINA has taken precisely this approach after several rule changes in the past - for example when swimming underwater in the breaststroke was restricted to one stroke after the start and turns;  (2) respect for athletes and coaches - world record setters under the 2008-09 rules continue to be recognised for their achievements, as do those who set standards in textile suits prior to 2008; and (3) uniformity - the model can be rolled out across the world of continental, regional and national record books with relative ease."

Three types of outcomes emerged during the suits saga: records that went past pre-2008 times in non-textile suits; suits that went past pre-2008 standards in textile suits but were subsequently broken by swimmers wearing non-textile suits; records that were not broken.

Here are three examples of the three different situations in which adjustment would apply:

Where the standard time reverts back to a time set prior to Jan 1 2008:

  • Women's  50m Freestyle
  • 24.39         Inge de Bruijn (NED)            01-08-2000
  • 24.13         Inge de Bruijn (NED)            01-08-2000
  • Jan 1, 2008: FINA permits non-textile swim suits
  • 24.09         Marleen Veldhuis (NED)      18-03-08
  • 23.97         Libby Trickett (AUS)             22-03-08
  • 23.96         Marleen Veldhuis (NED)      19-04-09
  • 23.73         Britta Steffen (GER)             26-07-09
  • Jan 1, 2010: FINA rules allow textile-only swim suits and define suit profiles 
  • 24.13         FINA standard time         

The 24.13 is that set by Inge de Bruijn at the Olympic Games in Sydney, 2000. Accordingly, other records would return to the times set by Alex Popov (RUS) in the 50m free; Pieter van den Hoogenband (NED) in the 100m free; and so on and so forth.

Where the world record was broken after January 1, 2008 by a swimmer wearing a textile suit (all such efforts have since been surpassed), the record book would be altered accordingly:

  • 4:02.13 Laure Manaudou (FRA) 06-08-06 
  • Jan 1, 2008: FINA permits non-textile swim suits 
  • 4:01.53 Federica Pellegrini (ITA) 24-03-08 
  • 4:00.66 Joanne Jackson (GBR) 16-03-09 
  • 4:00.41 Federica Pellegrini (ITA) 27-06-09 
  • 3:59.15 Federica Pellegrini (ITA) 26-07-09 
  • Jan 1, 2010: FINA rules allow textile-only swim suits and define suit profiles 
  • 4:01.53 FINA standard time

Pellegrini swam in an arena textile suit when she claimed Manadou's record in Eindhoven (albeit that there was talk of her having worn two suits, not illegal at the time)

Where the world record was not broken (there are just two events, the men's and women's 1,500m freestyle), then the run of the record book would look like this:

  • 14:34.56     Grant Hackett (AUS)     
  • Jan 1, 2010: FINA rules allow textile-only suits and define suit profiles 

Anyone who breaks Hackett's time would appear below this line.

The proposed model on records, which has the support of the head coaches of the USA and Australia, respectively Mark Schubert and Alan Thompson, will be discussed at federation level in October and by the FINA Swimming Technical Committee in Berlin in November. 

Last July, when the FINA Congress in Rome voted 168 - 6 to oppose the recommendation of the organisation’s president and executive director and ban the controversial “technical suits” that had undermined the integrity of the sport as it wreaked havoc with the world record book, Executive Director Cornel Marculescu was quick to issue a warning.  “We will not,” he stated emphatically, “eliminate the records that have been established by swimmers using the new suits.”

No need to. There is unanimous support among coaches (and probably swimmers too) for all records set in 2008-09 to be respected for what they were. But left unaddressed was the issue of the unfairness to future swimmers of retaining records swum with the assistance of equipment that clearly boosted performance.  Citing the experience with the records set by doped East German swimmers, some predicted it might take ten to twenty years to break the records set with the aid of the technical suits.

Coaches believed that the solution proposed by the journalists was simple, fair to past, present and future swimmers, and simple and elegant too when it came to rolling out the model through the various levels of record books, from world to continental, regional and national. The model is also based on FINA precedent.

As explained by the two journalists:

"Draw two lines in the record book where the progression of world - and continental and national - records is presented.  The first line is at January 1, 2008 and the second at January 1, 2010. 

"At the first line, insert a notice in small type that reads along the lines of ‘Jan 1, 2008: FINA permits non-textile swim suits'

"At the second line, the notice should read something like: ‘Jan 1, 2010: FINA rules allow textile-only swim suits and define suit profiles .'

"The record times swum in 2008 and 2009 continue to be recognised as legitimate world marks, but subsequent world records are set if the swimmer exceeds the time best time ever set by a swimmer wearing a textile suit".

The effect of the exercise would be to return standardisation and fairness to the record book for this and future generations of swimmers and the coaches who prepare them.