Connect with Us:  

Suits: Why Thighs Should Be Exposed

Sep 30, 2009  - Forbes Carlile

Editorial introduction: Many in the swimming world have assumed that the leap from bodysuits and non-textile fabrics to textile-only and a cut back in profile of suits from January 1, 2010, marks the end of the line on the issue. FINA's appointment of a panel of experts led by Prof Jan-Anders Manson tells us that the international federation, wisely, thinks otherwise. Of late, we have heard something about the new textiles being developed by Yamamoto. The fabrics are revolutionary and could be engineered to work in the way (and beyond, some suggest) that non-textiles worked in suits in 2008 and 2009. Yamamoto does not make suits of its own but it does sell fabrics to suit makers, including one of FINA's official kit partners. Yamamoto is not alone in the market for developing new textiles for a new world. 

What swimming must decide on a continuous basis is whether anything worn by a swimmer can enhance performance in a significant way well beyond the "I feel great" factor. There are experts who tell us that covering the thighs with knee-length suits "is not the way to cleanse swimming of the blight of becoming an equipment-based sport". If that assertion is correct, then the newly worded Rule SW10.7 will soon be broken by suits made to meet the 2010 rules laid down by FINA in Rome in July. "A short-term  band-aid cure" is how the move to allow material coverage of thighs has been described in a reflection of one of the core arguments against the suits of 2008 and 2009 - that the more skin you cover, the greater the mischief possible. As ever, the swimming world is divided on the matter, with many leading coaches waiting to see what advice emerges from the FINA panel of experts, which is already considering the potential for performance enhancement from new textiles that extend down to the knee. 

Forbes Carlile, veteran Aussie coach, father of the taper and the pace clock and one of the leaders of the debate on bodysuits since 1999, received apologies from Alan Thompson and Mark Schubert, the respective head coaches of Australia and the USA, of late. Both said that they wish they had listened to Carlile much earlier in the suits debate so that the Rome circus and all the events of 2008 and 2009 might have been avoided. 

The lesson is clear: forethought. As such, now is the time to contemplate the problems of the future. We start today by considering the arguments of Carlile, who wants suits to end no more than a couple of inches below the groin at the most and sees no sound argument for allowing textile to cover the thigh and keep alive the potential for performance enhancement in suits - Craig Lord

By Forbes Carlile, guest writer

American Coaches and the Board of the World Swimming Coaches Association (WSCA), among others, have signalled that they are willing to go along with approval of a "suit-to-the-knees" rule to be enforced by FINA from January 1, 2010.

The pious hope is held that if this compromise remedy to a disastrous situation (2008-09) does not work, then a later transition could be made to brief suits. Pigs might fly. There will be no second chance before avoidable harm can be done.

A serious mistake is being made with the half measure of a pretend fair swimming suit, the result of which Swimming may well have to endure with further loss of its credibility and integrity - if that were possible.

Allowing this to happen would be a mindless compromise, tailored to help manufacturers who just do not "get it", that the FINA Congress (no fewer than 168 nations "for") voted overwhelmingly for a pure sport (adding "swim suit" to rule SW10.7), rejecting all use of performance aiding equipment, including suits.

It all started before the 1996 Olympic Games with the manufacturers widely claiming enhanced performance with porous fabrics covering as much of the body as possible, including the extensive thigh area. Coaches and administrators then nearly all agreed with FINA: they saw benefit in the "glamour" and in promised world records, in the potential to fill grandstands and in "bringing money into the sport".

The extravagant record claims have been discredited (by science and statistics) for the pre-2008 suits but the important consideration now must be whether with various new porous fabrics, suits to the knees may not usher in another period of unrest in that some of the thigh cover just may provide , even to a small extent, an added positive effect on a suits contribution to performance. How? By decreasing the swimmers' angle of buoyancy, also by compression, factors which are considered to improve performance. 

This enlightenment - there are 5 good arguments in support - should surely be enough to rationally end any argument as to whether suits to the knees should be tolerated in the sport. 

It was strongly affirmed at the July General Congress in Rome that in competition there should be prohibition of all performance- enhancing suits. The swimming world now should no longer have to look at semi long suits wondering about the extent to which the thigh cover may be contributing to swimmers' performance. 

In the 50m sprint the exact extent of fibre porosity from suit to suit may be an important consideration where hundredths of a second separate top competitors. The time within 20-odd seconds taken for the fabric of suits to completely wet will be an important factor to be controlled within narrow limits. Within five seconds for all suits - is this too much to expect?

With the relatively large area provided by the thigh cover there is a lot of suit to worry about. Tight control will be difficult with greater body cover. Scientists cannot be absolutely certain about the effectiveness of possible aid provided by the various characteristics of all synthetic and natural fibres, whether they may aid performance. Complete scientific knowledge is an abstraction, and hence full and precise control is next to impossible - FINA probably realises this and, through high-sounding rhetoric, various red herrings have been fed to the gullible, just as came to pass with the now-discredited Dubai Charter. 

Our "leaders" continue to muddy the waters. It has been clearly stated that FINA wants to see "evolution" and"progress" in suits. The solution of extensive testing is a false trail, down which FINA is leading many who have chosen to believe and hope that a way has now been found to prevent further swim-suit dishonesty.

What we have seen is humbug, in large measure.

If swimming continues down the route that permits competition in "controlled" semi-long suits then what should be the "pure sport of swimming" will not emerge from the depths of lost integrity as a degraded, quite unnecessarily so, equipment-based sport. Millions of swimming families will continue to be faced with having to pay for a hoped-for fast suit much more than many can afford.

Covering of the thighs in suits to the knees will lead to challenges, which are likely to be met in finding not easily detectable loop-holes to beat the system. 

With an honest, clear-minded application of the "may aid " rule SW10.7 and with good application of  common sense  U.S Swimming recommendation earlier this year that there should be minimum cover . 

Why has USA Swimming moved from this position without protest? [Not forgetting the silence and inaction of many, many other nations that have done far less than the US to find a solution]. Now we find ourselves, for men and women, ready to  adopt the knee-length "solution" in FINA's grand pose "to save the sport". 

It is galling to observe so many jumping on the FINA band-wagon.

All the precautions outlined originally by USA Swimming may not prove to be the whole solution to a vexatious problem.

First and last the question should be asked - WHY would the manufacturers, FINA, coaches or swimmers want competition suits to be to the knees when brief suits world-wide are worn in training?

To gain a swim suit advantage - what else?

Dr Joel Stager (Indiana University) showed that both the introduction of "long suits" and porous, then non-floatable materials such as nylon and Lycra together did not aid performances of finalists at the Olympic Games above the progress expected from Games to Games. It was no surprise that FINA's's Executive Director Cornel Marculescu dismissed Stager's work when he  vacuously pooh-hooed  this valuable scientific research, being quoted as saying "this was only one man's opinion". Well, the data is there to be examined statistically with scientific rigour and then perhaps one could disclaim Dr Stager's  conclusions. His findings have not been seriously challenged. [ED - they are backed up by similar findings in analysis of world rankings over the past 24 years by SwimNews].

However it might well be asked, why should wearing of any variety of long suit not be approved along with imposition of other restrictions?

Because much has changed with materials.

The vastly improved performances from February 2008 can only be explained by the fact that bodies were covered with new materials. Exactly how this has happened is not fully known by scientists. For this reason any rule-making for suits will be fallible, inhibited by lack of a base of complete and reliable knowledge. All we think we know now is that for some individuals long suits helped possibly due to a compression effect on "flabby" areas.

Logical and reasonable action must be taken to minimise the material cover of the body - this together with a return to non performance- aiding technology, that  seen only before February 2008. 

It is reasonable to conclude that materials  used in competitive swim suits during and before 2007, when any effect as has been seen was minimal, should be accepted as the  bench-mark in  approving suits with non performance-aiding technology. 

It is of course a ridiculous suggestion that banning post 2008 fast suits should logically mean a return to woollen and other suits of the more distant past as an alternative to wearing later equipment- aided swim wear.

It is important at the same time that manufacturers should be required to commit themselves when submitting suits for approval, providing  a Statement of Compliance with 2007 benchmark technology.

It is vitally important for the sport that the FINA Bureau should be stopped in their tracks for giving approval for semi long suits. 

FINA almost certainly will attempt to sweep reasoned protest and even possible "adverse" recommendations of their newly formed Scientific Commission  under the carpet where they do not support the Executive's long-held ambition to the use of fast suits. It was because it was not considered politically good strategy to complicate and so jeopardise arguing the thrust of the main issue to get rid of fast suits, a proposition stoutly opposed by the FINA Executive, that brief suits were not mentioned .

With the Speedo company in particular lobbying strongly for suits to the ankles, and for men, to the shoulders ( "for equality" they said!), it is understandable that the attitude of most was not to be concerned with "details" and to accept disingenuous advice "to be happy with the compromise we are winning for you".

So why was the issue of the brief suit not raised when so much had been said, by swimmers, for its adoption?  Because so much was going on. However, the eventual overwhelming vote against FINA was not anticipated: a vast majority 168 nations.

The prime movers for change, USA Swimming ,did not ask for brief suits apparently deviating from its earlier conviction.

The 2009 Congress proved one thing, that the federations no longer need to consider themselves as beggars at the table of FINA. They can now feel free to democratically move for what they believe is best for the sport. Both Marculescu and out-going president Mustapha Larfaoui continued to argue for performance-enhancement in the face of truly overwhelming opposition. Not in living memory have the "wheelers and dealers", the hierarchy, the unchallenged bosses of FINA, been beaten, and crushed like this in an open vote on any issue. 

FINA's "ways and means" finally failed them. With time to breathe and re-consider it must be evident to all that without some hidden agenda the short-sighted knee-length suits plan  never must be allowed to happen, even as a possible stop-gap measure (made to appease the manufacturers who were largely responsible for the trouble swimming is in, and who hardly need help, having had good warning to be prudent with their inventories.)  

The present, largely unopposed, route of taking this half measure will see the sport little better off and more than likely to soon find itself embroiled again in more distrust and ceaseless argument ... and what happens once again with the records when it is finally decided brief suits should be worn?  

The only viable option is straight to brief suits now the major battle has been won. Swimmers in training wear brief suits. For racing there could be little "sensitivity" to wearing them. They surely should be  considered a badge of competitive excellence.

Citing "culture and fashion" as being good  reasons for rejecting only use of traditional brief suits in competition, presenting  minimal opportunities for gaining advantage, would be to countenance further likely debasement of our sport.

Time will be of the essence if the FINA Bureau is to be prevented from driving swimming further down a rocky road in proclaiming that thighs may be covered. With such a "part fix", the dishonesty swimming has been shrouding itself with will justify further world-wide criticism and give prospect of continuing chaos.