By Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 25, 2009
FINA, swimming's world governing body, finally figured out the way to determine which of the controversial long-length, high-tech swimsuits to restrict.
On Friday, it banned every last one.
With a nearly unanimous vote, FINA's member nations accepted a proposal initiated by the United States to allow only waist-to-knee suits, known as "jammers," for men, and shoulder-to-knee suits for women, beginning in competition next year.
The move was far more dramatic than expected and allowed the sport's leaders largely to circumvent vexing questions of fabrics, impermeability and buoyancy by focusing on the length of the suits. Though FINA also noted that the suits must be "textile," it did not immediately define the term, leaving that issue to be hashed out.
Though the changes won't go into effect at the world championships that begin Sunday in Rome, they will hang over the competition, seemingly wagging a finger at every world-record setter wearing a suit that will never be allowed again in a major swimming championship.
"A lot of us are joking that this might be the fastest we ever go," American backstroker Aaron Peirsol told the Associated Press in Rome. "We might as well enjoy this year."
FINA also decided that the world records set by those wearing the long-length, high-tech swimsuits would stand, which means the sport is likely facing several years largely bereft of record breaking. More than 130 world records have been broken in high-tech suits since Speedo launched its LZR last year, a suit worn by nearly every medal winner at the 2008 Summer Games and which set off the current technological arms race.
"Some of these records might not be broken for a long, long time," Peirsol said.
Friday's decision came from FINA's congress, made up of the world's 100-plus swimming nations, rather than FINA's bureau, the executive arm of the organization that tried -- but failed -- to rein in the suits earlier this year.
FINA's bureau said it would restrict suits this past spring in time for the world championships, but after a month-long review of 136 suits it gave up and let them all in, increasing to 400 the number of allowed suits at next week's meet -- and raising the ire of many member nations, particularly the United States and Australia.
Many coaches and officials have equated the suit issue with the doping problems that plagued the sport in decades past.
Friday's decision will affect all of the suit makers. Speedo athletes have argued that the LZR is less offensive than the slew of 100-percent polyurethane suits that have been released in the last year, such as the Jaked01 and the Adidas Hydrofoil, but no suit maker will be immune from the ban's effects.
The change will trickle down to the amateur level and likely, the collegiate level as well. USA Swimming abides by the international governing body rules, meaning all youth competitions will face the same restrictions next year. The NCAA is expected to adopt FINA's policy since it has followed the international guidelines in the past.
Though USA Swimming banned long-length suits for children 12-or-younger last fall, the suits have been increasingly prevalent at older age-group meets. Dozens of swimmers wore various varieties of the suits at the recent Potomac Valley Long-Course Senior Championships.