EXCLUSIVE: USA Swimming Mulls Reversing Bodysuit Ban

By Phillip Whitten

SWIMMING’S bodysuit wars escalated today when sportswear giant adidas America offered to provide free Adidas bodysuits to all 1,200 competitors at the U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials. The offer was contained in a letter from Jack Buckner, adidas America’s Director of Marketing, to Chuck Wielgus, Executive Director of USA Swimming.

The action by adidas came only days after TYR Sport, the number two manufacturer of competitive swimwear in the United States, announced it was officially protesting the decision by USA Swimming to ban bodysuits from use at the U.S. Olympic Trials in Indianapolis, August 9-16.

TYR asked USA Swimming to reverse its decision, and threatened legal action if the decision were not reversed.

In June, the Board of Directors of USA Swimming decided to ban the controversial new hi-tech bodysuits on the grounds of availability and fairness, after Speedo, the leading manufacturer of swimwear in the U.S., acknowledged that it would be unable to meet its commitment to have the suits available for purchase by all Olympic Trials competitors.

Both TYR and adidas noted that, while Speedo would not have sufficient bodysuits available, they would.

Adidas noted that it’s "Equipment" bodysuit has been available in the U.S. since May 1999, and was used by Australia’s Ian Thorpe and the USA’s Ed Moses earlier this year to set world records.

"adidas America is committed to supporting our nation's swimmers, and we feel that every effort should be made to ensure that they are properly prepared for the Olympic Games in Sydney," said Buckner.

Chris Wilmoth, TYR’s Public Relations Manager, noted: "Clearly, USA Swimming did not have all the facts and it would appear that this decision was based upon one brand's (Speedo's) inability to make suits. Our body suit, 'Aquapel,'has been available and we would be more than happy to supply all athletes with it. Our goal is to solve this problem for USA Swimming by making Aquapel available to whoever wants to wear it."

"The USA Swimming Steering Committee voted to disallow the new bodysuits in the interest of fairness to all competitors at the Trials. Their decision was hastily made and based on misinformation," Wilmoth charged.

"What USA Swimming is doing is entirely arbitrary and erroneous," Wilmoth continued. "In the event that we exhaust all administrative remedies, TYR Sport has
retained legal counsel to consider further options."

In response, Wielgus said he is considering calling a special meeting of the Board of Directors of USA Swimming for next Tuesday.

"This afternoon we sent letters to each of the major swim suit manufacturers—Speedo, Adidas, TYR, NIKE and Arena—in which we posed a series of questions," Wielgus said. "These questions are designed to give our Board of Directors specific and detailed information relating to the actual availability and specific delivery and implementation strategies of each of the manufacturers to make their suits available to each and every athlete competing at the Olympic Trials in a timely manner," he explained.

"I’ve asked them to provide their answers by Sunday evening in anticipation of a possible Board of Directors meeting on July 18.

"I don’t know where all this is going," Wielgus acknowledged. "All we want to do is support our athletes, but we seem to have two conflicting goals. On the one hand, we want a level playing field at the Olympic Trials. On the other hand, when our kids step on the starting blocks in Sydney, we want to have done all we could to ensure that they have the greatest performance of their lives."

"The thing that makes this so frustrating is that clearly there is no simple right or wrong answer. The situation is evolving daily. We know more today than we did a week ago and we’ll know more a week from now than we do today. Each new piece of information takes us down a new turn in the road."

"When the Board first began talking about this issue, there was an acknowledgment that Speedo was not the only company making full bodysuits. Our decision came down to availability: We believed no manufacturer was in a position to meet the availability needs of all the Olympic Trials athletes."

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