Sport & Exercise Science

Leading European swimming coaches protest over the use of ‘performance enhancing’ swimsuits

Rebecca AdlingtonThe unease over the Speedo LZR Racer suit felt by many swimming coaches prior to the Beijing Olympics, flared into outright revolt when Fifteen of the 17 top European nations, including Great Britain, signed a protest which is to be presented to world governing body Fina calling for a number of regulations to be discussed and implemented.

The LZR Racer is one of the most controversial pieces of sports equipment ever introduced. Critics have accused its manufacturers, Speedo, of ‘technological doping’ and complained it gives its wearers an unfair advantage. But there is no doubt that it works: 74 world records have fallen since the launch of the revolutionary swimsuit in March this year.

Their concerns centre around the technological advances in the design of the swimsuit and the fabrics used, which many feel has pushed its use over the line from performance maximisation to performance enhancement.

The materials used in the suits include a fabric that cuts drag and applies pressure on the body to make it more hydrodynamic. The swimmer moves more easily through the water, economising on oxygen by around 5 per cent. Other innovations include an integrated corset in the main body of the suit which gives an athlete more core stability and helps them maintain the correct position in the water. If for example Rebecca Adlington were swimming 800metres and started to tire, her hips would start dropping and her legs would start dragging with the result that she couldn’t swim as fast. By wearing the LZR it is claimed, she is helped to maintain the correct position and as a result is at a huge advantage over non-users.

Records began to tumble immediately after the introduction of the suit in February and within six weeks more than 15 world records had fallen. At the 12th European Short Course Swimming Championships in Croatia this week, a further nine marks went including an astonishing four to Frenchman, Amaury Leveaux.

Now, however, the coaches have had enough and are calling for firmer regulations to stop the wholesale record-breaking which they believe devalue both the records themselves and the achievements of previous holders.

British Swimming’s head coach Dennis Pursley said “I know not everybody agrees with that statement but to me the facts are clear. Swimmers are swimming in a succession of meets – some with the suits, some without the suits and there is a dramatic difference when they are wearing the suits.”

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