On the same day that FINA, swimming’s governing body, acknowledged the fact that high-tech bodysuits would be banned by May 2010, a German swimmer named Paul Biedermann beat world record holder Michael Phelps in the 200-meter freestyle.
After the win, Biedermann, who was wearing one of the new slick Arena X-Glide suits, was quoted as saying, “the suits really do have an effect.”
While there’s no denying, even from the competitors themselves, that the latest versions are technological doping and disingenuous to the competition, there’s many questioning if the new rules -– which restrict suits back to textiles from polyurethane – sets the sport back too much.
We spoke to Craig Brommers, Speedo’s vice president of marketing, about how the change will affect Speedo and the sport.
Darren: You are a FINA sponsor and yet there’s a sense this came out of nowhere. How much of that sentiment is true?
Brommers: Well, there had been some talk in the industry and the key issue was that these new buoyant suits have no place in the pool and we’re happy that FINA clarified that.
Darren: Under a no buoyancy rule alone, your Speedo LZR racer would still be in the game?
Brommers: Yes. Speedo never knowingly developed buoyant wet suits. We don’t think that has a place in swimming. We believe that FINA could have accomplished something by going back to textile only bodysuits. That would have brought us back to 2007, when we had the FS Pro, a fabric-only bodysuit.
Darren: But FINA, as part of this rule, has restricted bodysuits by saying the men can’t wear any suit that goes below the knees or above the waist and females can’t swim in anything that goes beyond the knees or shoulders.
Brommers: And that brings us back to the mid 90s. We understand that FINA had to do something and we empathize the emotionally charged situation this turned into, but we thought getting rid of buoyancy was the key. There was never any controversy with the fabric bodysuits in 2007.
Darren: Have you begun to assess the inventory you have and how you and retailers will be compensated for the sudden change?
Brommers: FINA will have a conversation with the various swim manufacturers to determine what the supply chain impact is. So right now it’s a little premature. We have a close relationship with our retailers and as soon as we can access the business impact, we’ll help develop an exit strategy to be ready when the new FINA rules kick in.
Darren: How much of a success was the LZR racer?
Brommers: The LZR racer got a lot of attention, but it was never a marketing exercise. It was a profitable business for the brand. We were painfully aware that we couldn’t meet the demand for these suits. The product was the most sought after swimsuit of all time and we dramatically exceeded all our sales projections. And we’re very proud of the intensive research and development. As of tonight, LZR was worn by swimmers as they set 85 world records, so it will remain iconic in the history of sports technology.
Darren: Was it too much? Should these records stand?
Brommers: World records in the LZR racer should exist because the swimmers were wearing suits that were approved by FINA at the time.
Darren: How much are you in shock from this ruling?
Brommers: Speedo’s first commitment is to grow the sport of swimming and we’ve done that. Participation in the pool last year jumped thanks to Michael Phelps’ amazing achievements and the interest in technology. We are committed to help in marketing the sport of swimming and committed to continuing to innovate within the new FINA rules.
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