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Swim controversy swirls

In the U.S., things have quieted, but in other places, the bodysuit is still making waves.

August 03, 2008|Lisa Dillman | Times Staff Writer

What do Wonder Woman, Superman, Catwoman and Michael Phelps all have in common?

Well, they don't all have blazing speed in the 100-meter freestyle, although Catwoman probably has some decent fast-twitch muscles.

They are all included in the ongoing exhibit at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, "Superheroes: Fashion and Fantasy." Amidst all the men and women of steel and savvy happens to be a Phelps figure, wearing the Fastskin LZR Racer.

World records are one thing. But inclusion in such an exhibit -- which runs through Sept. 1 -- shows how quickly the high-tech Speedo suit has jumped from the inside lexicon of the sport to the mainstream.

Just as that transition has occurred with relative speed, the controversy appears to have quieted just as quickly in the United States, dying down at the Olympic trials last month in Omaha.

Even the legal battle between Speedo and TYR Sport has slowed. The latter is going after the former in an antitrust action, but all maneuvers have been put on hold until after the Olympics. TYR also sued its former pitchman Erik Vendt, who did not qualify in any individual events but could swim in a relay in Beijing. Vendt was sued for breach of contract and has countersued TYR.

Still, when Aaron Peirsol, a Nike endorser, casually mentioned at a media gathering at Stanford he would consider wearing the Speedo suit in Beijing, it barely caused a ripple. He would be doing it with Nike's blessing, just as he did in Omaha when he set a world record in the 100-meter backstroke in the LZR and tied another in the 200 backstroke.

That hasn't been the case in Europe and Asia. Last week, the suit manufacturer Arena and the Italian swim federation parted ways, sparked by Filippo Magnini, the world champion in the 100 free. According to news reports, Arena was angered when the federation said it could not prevent him from wearing the Speedo suit at the Olympics.

Additionally, Olympic gold medalist Kosuke Kitajima won't be wearing any suit by manufacturers in his native Japan, opting to stick with the LZR after breaking Brendan Hansen's two-year-old world record in the 200 breaststroke in June. It was the first time he had worn the Speedo bodysuit.

Forty-eight world records -- including short course and long course -- have come from swimmers wearing the suit.

Gary Hall Jr., who finished fourth at the trials in the 50 freestyle, said this generation of suit did not hold as much water as the previous Speedo offering.

"I think it's a big innovation," he said in an interview earlier this year. "Do I think it's cheating? It's not cheating. Actually I think it's a less buoyant suit than the previous one, the Sharkskin.

"The Sharkskin, you'd pull it out of the water and you'd feel the weight. With this one, you can pull it out of the water and it's as light as it was when it was dry."

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lisa.dillman@latimes.com

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