Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Michael Phelps Loses to the Arena X-Glide Swim Suit

Michael Phelps lost an international swimming race for the first time in 4 years but the loss was not fair by a long measure. The new polyurethane swim suits are turning the Rome World Aquatic Championships are into a farce. Michael and his coach are so stinking mad that they are refusing to compete internationally until FINA bans the illegal swim suits once and for all. The picture to the right was taken from the Globe and Mail and speaks volumes. Michael Phelps is rightly upset.

However, lets be honest, the damage is done. World records have been smashed to smithereens in the past few days. Once the illegal swim suits have been banned these world records will continue to stand for years. Will FINA do the right thing and erase all of the world records attained by swimmers wearing the illegal swim suits? They should but I doubt it very much. FINA is giving it's blessing to cheaters and everyone who cares about the integrity of sport should be alarmed.

This year in Rome, it's not about the swimmers, the news high lights about the swim suits. How very sad for the swimmers. These new swim suits are faster, more high-tech and made of materials that trap air and allow for better buoyancy.

Michael Phelps's defeat came in the 200-metre freestyle event against Paul Biedermann from Germany. Michael was wearing the same Speedo LZR suit he wore at the Beijing Olympic Games while Biedermann wore one of the new full-body polyurethane suits.

After the loss, Michael was clearly upset and his coach was beside himself. Michael said he would finish his events at the world championships but would then withdraw from all international meets until “swimming gets back to swimming.” His coach, Bob Bowman couldn't agree more. He released a statement saying “My recommendation to [Phelps] is not to swim internationally until this is resolved.”

The issue of these illegal suits has been debated by the swim world and the swim authorities at FINA for the past year. In 2009, an extraordinary number of swimming world records have been smashed. An unbelievable 15 world records have been broken in just the first three days of the acquatic world championships. Michael was expected to lower his personal best time in the 200-metre freestyle but was easily handled by Biedermann who set a world-record of 1 minute 42 seconds.

Biedermann was wearing the same Arena X-Glide suit he wore days earlier when he lowering Ian Thorpe’s seven-year-old world record by 1.27 seconds. He basically admitted that he won and set records because of the new illegal swim suit. Beidermann spoke to reporters about his suit after winning his first gold medal saying smuggly: “FINA allowed it. It’s not my problem.”

The Speedo LZR suit was the water-shedding miracle swim suit that helped produce 108 world records in 2008. However, this swim suit was different and Speedo developed the swim suit with integrity. For example, Speedo worked with FINA to ensure that its suit didn’t float or provide extra assistance to the swimmers. Speedo did not want their swim suit to provide an unfair advantage. Arena, Adidas and Jaked wanted to get on the bandwagon and they began producing new innovative swim suit designs. However Arena, Adidas and Jaked forgot that sport is about fair play and swimming championships should reward the fastest swimmer.

These new suits are designed to be better than swimming naked. They reduce drag and stabilize muscles for a distinct advantage. Most illegally, these swim suits float!! FINA agreed yesterday to impose a ban on these illegal swim suits. This new ban will ensure that all swim suits are made of textiles (still to be defined by FINA). The suits will not be allowed to have zippers or fasteners and athletes cannot wear two suits at the same time. There can also be no custom modifications to any suit.

However without explanation, FINA officials stunned the swimming world by saying the ban wouldn’t be enforced until next April or May. I'm sure there is some collective head scratching going on. What's the point in delaying the ban?

Michael's coach wasn’t happy to hear that the ban would be delayed a year as the ban was originally set to begin on Jan. 1, 2010. Bowman angrily sputtered “I want swimming to go back to racing. This move to April is unacceptable,” he said. “You can’t trust what they say. It might be never"

The German Biedermann's performances at the world championships have been liken to “technological doping.” In smashing Thorpe’s 400-freestyle record Biedermann posted a 6.5-second improvement in just 12 months. When asked about Biedermann's eye popping improvement Michael Phelps said: “Usually you don’t see 6 seconds dropped in the 400 in a year. I think he was in the final of the 200 free last year [in Beijing] and he’s dropped like three seconds in that, so he’s having a good meet.”

The illegal-swim suit assault on swimming’s world record book has drawn the disgust of many observers. Britain’s national performance director Michael Scott sarcastically predicted 99 per cent of swimming’s world records will set in Rome. In an unusual act of protest, the French sports newspaper L’Equipe is not reporting any world mark set in Rome if it involves the use of an illegal swim suit. American and Australian coaches have suggested that the new records are “a joke”. It sounds like poor Beidermann might end up like Milli Vanilli-splashy but quickly seen as a farce and then just as quickly forgotten.

For the sake of the integrity of competitive swimming the Jaked swim suit and the polyurethane Arena X-Glide swim suit should be banned immediately. Swimmers with integrity will refuse to wear these illegal swim suits and Michael Phelps will be welcomed back to international swimming.