Swimming breathed a sigh of collective relief yesterday as Fina, the sport's governing body, confirmed a January 1 2010 date has been set for the ban of performance enhancing, non-textile suits. With 35 world records shattered during the Rome World Championships thus far, the controversial 100 per cent polyurethane suits - which allow athletes greater buoyancy and propulsion - have plunged the sport into unprecedented in-fighting.
Amid calls from a number of national swimming federations for the new suits to be outlawed, Fina had earlier confirmed a future ban but insisted manufacturers required sufficient time to implement changes for next year's suits. The confirmed date should now end poolside recriminations, which reached a peak last week when Bob Bowman, Olympic sensation Michael Phelps's coach, threatened to withdraw the American from all competition.
Bowman had criticised the failure to ban the suits earlier, and it is widely believed the ban date's been brought forward because Fina cannot risk losing their most marketable star with 14 Olympic gold medals to his name. "Now, without a doubt, the rules are applying from January 1," said the Fina executive director Cornel Marculescu. Bowman, meanwhile, praised the decision. "I'm thrilled that they did it, because it's the right thing to do - I'm glad to hear it and so is Michael," he said.
"We'll probably [now] keep our competition schedule. There will be some little questions about what suit Michael is going to wear until the end of the year, but they're minor," Bowman added. While Arena's completely non-textile suits have caused the uproar, Phelps himself uses Speedo's LZR Racer suit - a 50-50 polyurethane and textile hybrid. Although his Beijing gold medals last summer were won in the LZR, the 24-year old swimmer is looking forward to the new rules, which will see men restricted to suits that extend from the waist to the top of the knees, and women's suits not go past the shoulders or beyond the knees.
"It's going to be cool to be able to have all of us pretty much wearing the same suit," Phelps said. "All of this is going to be finished and then we're going to be able to talk about swimming again, not suits," he added. Marculescu conceded Bowman's and Phelps's respective criticisms were considered by the sport's principal authority: "Comments by Michael Phelps or anyone else we respect, and we do our job and control whatever happens in our sport," he said.
Fina now plan to issue 2010 suit guidelines to manufacturers by the end of September. A new scientific commission, with materials experts from each continent, will approve and monitor technology developments in future. firstname.lastname@example.org