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FINA requests research on high-tech swimsuits

Dec. 11, 2008, 4:52 p.m. (ET)

ROME(AP) Swimming's world governing body is requesting new research into the high-tech suits that have caused such a stir, and USA Swimming has proposed restrictions on their use.

“We have to be sure we are doing the best thing possible for the sport, together with the manufacturers,” FINA executive director Cornel Marculescu told The Associated Press this week.

FINA consistently upheld the design of the new suits - specifically Speedo's LZR Racer - in the run-up to the Beijing Games. But as world record after world record has been broken - mostly by swimmers wearing the LZR - complaints about the suits have only intensified.

Critics of the high-tech suits believe they create illegal levels of buoyancy. FINA is looking at the thickness of the new suits and seeking a scientific test that will determine whether suits are “credible” or not, Marculescu said.

“We are in contact with a very important university that is doing some research for us, and we will have the information at the beginning of next year,” he said.

He would not disclose which university is performing the research.

USA Swimming submitted the following recommendations to FINA: “In swimming competitions, the competitor must wear only one swimsuit in one or two pieces which shall not cover the neck, extend past the shoulder, nor past the knee. No additional items, like arm bands or leg bands shall be regarded as parts of a swimsuit.”

During the Beijing Games, many swimmers wore two suits, another factor that could increase buoyancy. Several swimmers put on an extra suit for decency reasons, with some of the new high-tech suits so thin and tight they can split apart as swimmers put them on.

USA Swimming also wants manufacturers to ensure that approved swimsuits are available to all competitors for 12 months before each Olympics.

“The purpose of these recommendations is to encourage FINA to implement a more thorough and scientific method of reviewing and approving suits,” USA Swimming president Jim Wood said in a statement provided to the AP.

At the Olympics, nearly every American swimmer used the LZR, and U.S. coach Mark Schubert said beforehand that he wanted every member of his team to wear the Speedo, even if they were under contract with another manufacturer.

In May, California-based TYR Sport filed a federal lawsuit alleging that rival Speedo had conspired with USA Swimming to stifle competition and lure top athletes away from other companies.

All the American swimmers under contract with Nike before the games switched to Speedo, as Nike effectively pulled out of the market.

But USA Swimming is now expressing some reservations. The organization decided in September to ban the new suits in 12-and-under competitions, effective in May. The new suits can cost upward of $300 (230 euros) and availability has been limited, meaning developing swimmers with the right resources or connections have an advantage over others.

“We have encouraged FINA to sit down with coaches and suit manufacturers on this process and are recommending legislation to limit the amount of body covered by the suit at future competitions,” Wood said. “In addition, we are encouraging the 12-month rule to ensure an even playing field to all athletes, allowing them a full year to practice in the suit, and to have their suits properly fitted.”

Speedo is a top sponsor for USA Swimming, and Stuart Isaac, a Speedo representative in the United States, said the language proposed by the Americans wouldn't necessarily ban the LZR.

“It would impact a couple of versions of the LZR, but it doesn't specifically address the technical issues,” Isaac said. “We already have versions in those guidelines.”

Companies make the high-tech suits in various shapes, with some stopping at the knee and shoulder and others covering swimmers' entire arms and legs.

“It's just one small aspect of the debate,” Isaac said. “The technical issues need to be considered in a much broader dialogue, and we're hoping that's what FINA is trying to do.”

FINA has invited 21 manufacturers to a Feb. 20 meeting at its headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland. Rule changes could be submitted at the FINA Bureau meeting in March - perhaps in time for the 2009 world championships in Rome, scheduled for July 18 to Aug. 2.