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Saturday, March 29, 2008

PostHeaderIcon The suit that's turned the swim world on its head

Records are falling to competitors wearing Speedo's new LZR Racer. Critics say it constitutes an unfair advantage. Even before the LZR debuted, there were signs of what might come, given how technology has ramped up the race to be faster in the water, revolutionizing the sport much as high-tech metal clubs changed golf.

Not only was this suit designed with help from NASA and its wind tunnels, but Speedo made sure that each step of the development process, including ultrasonically bonded seams -- no thread and needle here -- was approved by FINA, swimming's international governing body.

Then, at the product launch last month, Olympic star and Speedo pitchman Michael Phelps, who will attempt to win an unprecedented eight gold medals at the Olympics this summer in Beijing, said of wearing the suit: "When I hit the water, I feel like a rocket."

One rare complaint, however, surfaced Wednesday at the trials in Australia. Jess Schipper said that the LZR filled with water as she competed in the 200-meter butterfly final and caused her to fade down the stretch.

Still, with so many records falling so fast, three-time Olympic champion Pieter van den Hoogenband captured the essence of the controversy: "This [suit] allows far less talented swimmers to go fast," he told a French newspaper, adding that it made records meaningless. (...more)

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