Japanese Swimming Federation Considers Speedo LZR Racer for Beijing

By Hideki Mochizuki, Swimming World Japanese Correspondent

TOKYO, Japan, May 17. AFTER the Japanese Olympic Trials in April, the Japanese national team has been worried by the fact that no swimmer is allowed to use Speedo's LZR Racer at the 2008 Beijing Games while listening to news of fast times coming globally. At Trials, there were only two male swimmers selected for the national team wearing the new suit.

In a way, it was only two because of Japan's specific situation. Swimming World reported previously that the Japanese Swimming Federation has a contract with three companies – Mizuno, Asics and Descente, which distributes the Arena brand in Japanese market. The contract prohibits swimmers wearing anything but the three brands at the Beijing Games. Mizuno was the distributor for Speedo swimsuits in Japan, but the company decided to focus and create a swimwear business with its own brand last May. The Japanese company Goldwin took over the Speedo business.

In a management meeting of the Japanese Swimming Federation on May 7 a discussion was held on whether they should allow Speedo to be used in Beijing. Contrary to the expectation of coaches and athletes, the federation requested the three contracted companies to improve each of their current models for the Games to be equally as good as the new swimwear by May 30.

For the federation, it needed to be that date as the domestic preparatory meet for Beijing, the Japan Open, will be held on June 6-8 in Tokyo where swimmers could test any improved suits by any brand because each swimmer represents their club and are not locked in by Federation's contract. This was a seemingly impossible request, but the companies have been working on new suits and Kosuke Kitajima, who has an individual professional contract with Mizuno, plans to experiment the new version of Mizuno suit in a college dual meet this weekend in which he was allowed to compete with an exception. Think Michael Phelps being allowed to compete for Michigan in a dual meet against Ohio State for one time only.

Although Mizuno, Asics and Descente are long time contributors to the federation mainly as key suppliers of not only swimsuits but also team uniforms, they also supply all the other considerable competition items from the national team to selected swim camp of junior swimmers. However, the big question arising now is about the effectiveness of the contract itself, which lasts from the 2004 Athens Games until March 2017.

The federation revealed that no financial burden would arise even if it would include Speedo in top of three contracted companies. At the same time, there is no clause in the contract to prohibit the addition of any other swim brand. The long-term contract is now considered to be too much relationship-oriented, and not covering much future risk such as the new swimsuit case. At the end of the day, the federation did not expect that the any other brands outside of its contracted three companies could come up with such a gap in product at least in recognition of what the best swimsuit and technology could do.

While Kitajima plans to test Mizuno's new suit this weekend, three other swimmers, Hanae Itoh, Tomomi Morita and Hisayoshi Sato tested the Speedo LZR Racer in a college dual meet held in Japan. Itoh swam the 100-meter backstroke in 1:00.59, which was the second fastest in her career. Morita, a backstroke specialist competed in the 100-meter butterfly with 52.94.

"It gave me the feeling of better movement in my legs in the last 15m," Itoh said.

Another swimmer, Ai Shibata, is facing a difficult decision as she is technically an employee of Descente (Arena brand). Takeshi Matsuda belongs to the Mizuno Swim Team, so he clearly has stated he will not wear Speedo. The whole situation in Japan is now showing confused swimmers and coaches between the Federation's contract and also a premature sports marketing contract between supplier and individual swimmer. The federation will come up with a final decision on June 10.