No bodysuits, no world records in swimming

Dec 14 2010 - 6:09pm

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -- For the first time in more than a century, the swimming season may end without a single world record.

Swimming governing body FINA outlawed the bodysuits that helped rewrite the record books in 2008 and 2009. As a result, most swimmers are no longer near their best times.

The 2010 record book has already been closed on long-course events without a single entry. This week's short-course world championships in Dubai represent the last chance for a new mark.

"If you see one this week, it's going to be a pretty special performance, so take note," said U.S. women's coach Teri McKeever.

Of the 32 long-course world records, all but four of them were set in 2009 -- and only one -- Grant Hackett's mark in the 1,500-meter freestyle from 2001 -- came before 2008.

In the shorter 25-meter pool, all but 10 of the 42 world marks were set in 2009.

At the 2008 short-course worlds in Manchester, England, a whopping 18 world records were set.

"Maybe things were a little messed up before," said McKeever, referring to the era of bodysuits that helped propel swimmers underwater faster. "I think we'll get to that point, but it would be nice to make sure the performances are about people swimming faster, not technology. I think things got a little out of whack."

McKeever is not alone in her views that the high-tech suits had to go.

"When you get 150 world records in 12 months or so, the sport struggles for credibility. We used to get maybe six or seven a year before that," said Australia head coach Leigh Nugent, who believes records could fall this week.

At meetings during last year's long-course worlds in Rome, FINA opted to ban the rubberized suits at the start of 2010 and limit men's suits to between the waist and knees. Women's suits must be sleeveless and not go beyond the knees.

"My main objection to the rubberized suits was the difference in buoyancy and the fact that the buoyancy affected some people more than others," said recently ousted U.S. head coach Mark Schubert, who was instrumental in the return of textile suits.

Schubert is in Dubai as the honorary secretary of FINA's coaches commission.

"I think there was a lack of equality, because it positively affected some body types more than others," he said. "I think FINA made a good decision and I hope they stick with it."

However, not everyone is happy with the change.

"I don't think the fact that we've gone backward has been all good," said Stefano Morini, the coach of Italian standout Federica Pellegrini, who holds three world records.

"The suits weren't good for the sport but at that point everyone had them and everyone was at the same level," Morini added. "The fact that there could have always been great times and world records at big events could have been good for our sport and good to promote swimming."

Italy had first access to the bodysuits through local manufacturer Jaked, which was producing the fastest suits last year.

If the year ends without a world record for the first time since FINA was formed in 1908, there's no ruling out another change.

"I think going back to the normal suit is fair, but we don't know what the future will bring," said U.S. men's coach Jon Urbanchek. "FINA is very unpredictable. Money talks."

American star Ryan Lochte could swim up to eight events this week, and he sees plenty of opportunity for records.

"I think a lot of swimmers think they can't break a world record now because we're in textile suits. But for me, I honestly feel like my swimming could get a world record broken," Lochte said. "It's only a matter of time."

Schubert agrees.

"The records will come. I don't know about this week, but I'm sure some records will fall by London," he said regarding the 2012 Olympics. "Be patient."

From Around the Web

  +