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Swimming ‘super-suit’ era refuses to go quietly

SHANGHAI – Swimming will try to bury the infamous super-suits era at the Shanghai world championships but a lack of new records will provide a constant reminder of the fiasco.

While polyurethane-clad swimmers broke a whopping 43 world records at the 2009 edition in Rome, astonishing even themselves, athletes clad in traditional gear may set only a couple — or none at all — in the Chinese metropolis.

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The stark fact is that since the suits — designed to help buoyancy and support certain muscles, making it easier to swim faster for longer — were outlawed at the start of 2010, not one long-course record has fallen.

Swimming World Magazine writer John Lohn said the sport had suffered from the so-called technological doping episode, and predicted only two to five new world records would be set in Shanghai.

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“When they were in play, I thought the tech suits gave the sport a huge black eye,” Lohn told AFP.

“The 2009 world championships were a joke with the more than 40 world records. None of that was pure. But we’ve moved on and the sport is where it should be these days, based on talent and work ethic.”

Lohn said US swimmers Ryan Lochte and Rebecca Soni should better the 200m individual medley and 200m breaststroke records, while China’s Sun Yang could test Grant Hackett’s legendary 1,500m mark, set in the pre-suits age of 2001.

Swimming World Magazine has taken the unusual step of listing both the official and the “textile” (non-super suit) records on its website, but Lohn did not support erasing the technology-assisted world bests.

“I’m not a fan of wiping out the records set in tech suits. They were times that were recorded and to wipe them out would suggest they never happened,” he said.

“However, I am a proponent of having two sets of world records for each event, one listing the all-time mark and another listing the best time produced in a textile suit.”

He added that organisers and broadcasters of the world championships, hosted for the first time in the giant potential market of China, would not be worried by the records drought just one year away from the London Olympics.

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“I honestly don’t think the lack of world records is an issue for the broadcasters and organisers,” he said, noting that the upcoming Olympics would draw people to the sport.

The super-suit trend was started by Speedo in 2008 with its launch of the seamless, part-polyurethane LZR Racer, which was worn by Michael Phelps when he claimed a record eight gold medals at the Beijing Olympics.

Other manufacturers followed, including a part-polyurethane creation by Arena and the all-polyurethane Jaked 01, before world swimming chiefs finally banned them from competition.

Despite the daunting set of world records now facing unsuited elite swimmers, Japan’s Kosuke Kitajima, tipped to challenge the 100m breaststroke mark, remains bullish about his chances.

“They set world records by wearing high-speed swimsuits. I’m raring to break those records some day,” said the four-time Olympic champion.

“I want to hear them say, ‘What were those high-speed swimsuits after all?’ Then, I’ll say, ‘Give me a break. Now, you know the power of human beings.'”

TOPICS: Buoyancy, Controversy, Doping, Muscle support, Polyurethane, Shanghai, Swimming, technology, Time, World records
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