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FINA ban on high-tech suits to start Jan. 1

Under pressure from Michael Phelps' coach, swimming's ruling body moves extraordinarily quickly to put the prohibition in place.

August 01, 2009|Lisa Dillman

ROME — Three days after Michael Phelps' coach threatened to keep swimming's biggest star out of major meets, the sport's international governing body, FINA, announced Friday that its ban on high-tech bodysuits, which brought chaos to world records, will now take effect Jan. 1.

The decision represented rather amazing speed for an often slow-moving federation. When Phelps on Tuesday unexpectedly lost a race at the world championships, his coach, Bob Bowman, had lashed out at FINA, which had indicated the ban would not start until the spring. Bowman called on FINA to move quickly to settle the high-tech debate.

Friday's announcement means the controversial polyurethane suits -- ones made by the Italian companies Arena and Jaked were primarily responsible for the 35 world records set here through six days -- will be nothing more than museum relics, representative of a brief Wild West era in swimming.

The latest controversy involves suits that are stitch free, have low drag and are super buoyant.

"We're going to be able to talk about swimming and not suits," said Phelps, who has stayed with his Speedo LZR Racer suit. "I said nothing. That was all Bob. Those words came out of his mouth. There was probably a lot of pressure, not just from Bob."

Said Bowman: "I'm just thrilled they did it. It was the right thing to do. We're in 100% support of everything they're trying to do, and we know they want to do the right thing for the sport. They just need to do it. So I'm glad to hear it."

The implications for Phelps? Well, it looks as though he will now have a busy fall. With FINA moving forward, Phelps can now follow through on plans to swim World Cup meets in Berlin and Stockholm, a schedule Bowman suggested.

FINA has also put together a scientific committee to approve suits. The committee members' names were not released, but USA Swimming's executive director, Chuck Wielgus, said he had been assured by FINA that there would be at least one U.S. scientist on the panel.

Additionally, manufacturers will be obliged to secure approval for new suits at least one year before the Olympics or world championships they are to be used in, and the apparel must be available in the marketplace six months before that.

Speedo, having been eclipsed at the world championships by the suits offered by Arena and Jaked, responded to the development:

"The sport of swimming is a winner tonight, as these buoyant wetsuits that have cast a shadow over the world championships will finally be banned," said Speedo's Craig Brommers, senior vice president, marketing.

USA Swimming also welcomed the turn of events and said it would have the ban in place at the Duel in the Pool in Manchester, England, Dec. 19-20 -- and most likely even earlier, possibly in time for the short-course nationals.

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lisa.dillman@latimes.com

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