USA Swimming Bans High-Tech Suits for Youth Competitors

By Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 27, 2008; 4:50 PM

USA Swimming banned the revolutionary, high-tech swimsuits worn by nearly every swimming Olympian in Beijing for athletes 12 years old and younger during its annual convention in Atlanta on Saturday.

About 65 to 70 percent of USA Swimming's house of delegates, which consists of hundreds of voting members representing swim clubs at all levels across the nation, voted to ban suits that extend past the neck, shoulders or knees, officials said.

The ban will prevent children from competing in most versions of the partial- and full-body suits, but it does not include the so-called "jammers," close-fitting shorts that are extremely popular among boys. Youth swimmers also will be permitted to wear all versions of the suits at senior-level events.

USA Swimming's Club Development Director Pat Hogan said delegates were concerned that the pricey suits, which can cost as much as $500, would drive promising youngsters who couldn't afford them out of the sport and possibly deter proper stroke development.

"We're in a position where we want to grow participation in our sport," Hogan said. "We don't need to have false barriers to participation. The cost of those high-tech swim suits, for a young swimmer, doesn't really make sense."

Added Hogan: "We've helped protect and create a level playing field in 12-and-under competition where truly the type of suit you wear doesn't make a difference."

USA Swimming's Age Group Committee at first recommended a ban on the suits for swimmers up to age 18, but it met resistence from members who feared U.S. athletes would be at a disadvantage if they didn't have access to the suits. The sport's rules and regulations committee, meantime, urged members to let athletes have access to the best equipment available.

USA Swimming becomes the first major national or international governing to take serious action against the suits. After placing a temporary ban on highest-tech models, the NCAA decided to allow them at competitions this season. Despite much grumbling among international coaches about the suits's impact, FINA, the sport's international governing body, has not announced any restrictions.

Athletes wearing Speedo's now-famous LZR suit won 91 percent of the gold medals awarded in Beijing, Speedo officials say.

The long-john suits have been around for nearly a decade but have become so technologically advanced some say they are damaging the sport. Discussion of the suits dominated conversation at the convention this week, members said. Some said they expected some U.S. coaches to take up the issue with FINA in the near future.

"There are coaches out there that have concerns about the long-term implications of the high-tech suits and future iterations," Hogan said. "There will be some discussions going forward with FINA about what the future may hold."

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