May 8. THE Board of Directors of USA Swimming, meeting yesterday in Bartlesville, Okla., approved the use of the controversial new "body suits" at the U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials, to be held in Indianapolis, August 9-16.
The new Speedo "fast-skin" suits–along with similar body suits by Adidas, Arena, NIKE, Spanky and The Victor–have created tremendous controversy in Australia, where several high-profile coaches have spoken out against the suits. Last month the Australian Olympic Committee asked the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) to overturn a decision by FINA, swimming's international governing body, approving use of the suits, on the ground that they were performance-enhancing "devices" prohibited under FINA Rule SW 10.7. The CAS upheld FINA's decision.
In contrast, there has been relatively little public controversy in America. However last week, USA Swimming's International Relations Committee recommended that the suits not be allowed at the U.S. Olympic Trials. That recommendation was rejected by the full Board of Directors yesterday.
According to Mark Schubert, head men's coach of the U.S. Olympic team, "the key issue was one of equity, rather than performance-enhancement. We were concerned that all the new suits be made available to everyone competing at the Olympic Trials and that everyone have sufficient time to test the different suits to see which one he or she was most comfortable with.
"Since FINA has decided the suits are legal, we wanted to be sure that our own swimmers had experience with the suits at the highest level of competition," Schubert added.
Steve Roush, associate executive director of USA Swimming, noted that Speedo and other manufacturers have assured USA Swimming that body suits will be available by the Olympic Trials for every competitor who wants one.
Roush acknowledged that there was a question of equity in that some of the top swimmers, including Jenny Thompson and Lenny Krayzelburg, have had suits laser-fitted to their torsos, while others will have to buy them off-the-rack. "But," he added, "it's not any different from the situation where someone has a body that's exactly a size 30 or 32, and someone else doesn't quite fit the size. The important thing is to do everything we can to ensure equity, and we feel we have done that."