Friday, July 24, 2009

Fell Asleep on Wheel Watch... Woke Up in 1999.

So, this morning I got an email on my ipod that said I have a comment on a blog. No big deal. I passively check my email several times a day. Tony Austin had left a comment that ended with something to the effect of: “what do you think of the new FINA rule?” …but I am off work for the day and playing with my kids so I didn’t really think anything of it. I figured he was talking about FINA adding the words “swimsuit” rather than just the vague “device” to rule SW10, as reported at SwimNews.

Then, in the evening, when I checked in to my hotel (as I am away at a meet this weekend) I realized that my wife had texted me during the drive, to turn the radio to NPR. The text said “fast skins banned today. Tune to 107.5.” I didn’t know I got the text until over an hour after she sent it. As soon as I got within range of my hotel wi-fi I had to find out what in the hell was up. The first link I tapped was this radio interview with the President of USA Swimming. After that, I found articles at the Texas Swimming Blog, SwimNews, Universal Sports, Kast-Away, Swimming World and, of course, more from SwimNews.

Damn... I got scooped. Time to sharpen the horns.

How in the world did my wife find out about this before I did!?! How was it on NPR and in the AP before Craig Lord had ranted about it? How did my RSS feeder not keep me in the loop? How could FINA have made this decision without consulting me? How dare they?!

I don’t have a problem with returning to pre-2008. I really don’t. I never liked the cost, and at times the record breaking was exhaustingly heart-breaking. The first list, with the LZR still on it, was the most ridiculous thing I had ever seen. I have come to the conclusion that it needs to be all or none regarding tech. FINA has now decided to go with NONE. That can be seen as a good thing. No middle ground, because the middle has proven to be too muddy.

What I have a problem with is the BS that has led to the decision and the fact that now we have some problems to solve that are bigger than asterisks and patience.

How much influence did Speedo and their outspoken, high powered sponsors have in this decision that will put them back in the saddle? If the LZR and their 2% advantage had remained the pinnacle of swimsuit technology, would we be backtracking right now? When TYR athletes were ditching contracts to wear Speedo, people treated TYR like they were the villains for trying to get swimmers to honor their commitments. When athletes like Andrew Lauterstein started jumping from Speedo’s ship, we suddenly needed to change the rules for everyone. Speedo sponsored athletes and coaches have made a serious turn-around regarding tech. What the hell? In the months leading up to Beijing, the media frenzy surrounding the LZR left the world with no doubt that the new tech was the way to go. At the time I read more article about the NASA developed suit than I ever had about swimming as a whole.

Now that we are returning to skin and length restricted textiles, what do we do about all of the records set in super-modern suits? Asterisks might sound simple and harmless, but once they are put in place they will carry an ominous connotation that implies cheating. Years from now, when people are reading about Michael Phelps tremendous 8 gold medal performance, it will take a very involved footnote to explain that his races were “artificially aided,” although everyone else he raced at the time, or at least those from America and Australia, were also performance enhanced. Also, what about Thorpey’s records set in the full body? If we are choosing NONE with the suits, we probably oughtta take our asterisks back to pre-FS1. Think about it. The suits aren’t just going back to 2007... They are going to pre-2000, and the record board should go there with it. Are we really ready for that?

Just like the interviewer on NPR, the non-swimming public will not quite understand what is going on within our sport. They really won’t get why, when other sports are embracing similar innovations, we feel we need to banish them. They won’t know what it means when they see a list of the top 50 meter freestyle performances in history it will show asterisks after every name until they get to Alex Popov and Tom Jager. How far down the list are they right now?

Beyond that, will our sport be taking a step backwards regarding the income that keeps our athletes in the sport? In my opinion, post-grad opportunities are the greatest change that swimming has ever seen. Name recognition has been taken to a new level, and that counts for a lot when we are trying to break through to becoming a more mainstream, televised sport. Are post-grads going to struggle in a sport where innovation has been halted?

I really don’t know what the right answers are. I can only hope that decisions of this magnitude have been given the thorough investigation they deserve. The problems we face now will not be solved easily. Let’s hope that our sport can handle the road ahead. I am still on board. Let’s try to make the most of it, eh?

Maybe it is time to start the ball rolling on that tech-friendly pro league. Maybe the tech mess can spawn a healthy, media friendly, and positive addition to an unquestionably pure sport.

Let me know what you think in the comments section.


  1. Hmmm a tech-friendly pro league wouldn't really HURT the sport in any way--as long as everyone knows the tech suits aren't allowed for FINA sanctioned events like World Championships or the Olympics...

  2. EricT: Except that FINA has flexed it's muscle before and basically said that officials and athletes participating in events participating in events sanctioned by other bodies (in this case I'm thinking of an issue we had in our province with a master's world record holder wanting to race at the the senior's games) would lose their FINA eligibility. And the IOC isn't prepared to del with more than one sanctioning body. It's the combination that keeps them in power and enforces their artificial monopoly.

    About the suits though: The problem I have with the outrage 'journalists' like Craig Lord have expressed is that there simply hasn't been anything to prove causation vrs correlation when it comes to records and suits. Not to mention the fact that it's more than a little silly to complain about the cost of a $400 suit when it's worn by an athlete swimming:

    1) in a $10-100 million dollar facility
    2) in an event that cost $100,000 to $1 billion dollars to host
    3) that required 60+ officials to run
    4) that might be the end result of 5000-15000 hours of training with the associated lane space, club, coaching and opportunity costs
    5) who trains full time and was, therefore, unable to contribute their talents towards any other goal. For most athletes, the unsponsored ones, a 4 year Olympic training cycle might have been otherwise worth, what, $200,000?
    6) oh and I didn't even begin to discuss the travel costs required to get to the event nor the competition costs required to get them to countless other high level competitions where they garnered the experience required to be world record setting worthy.

    So no. just can't buy the expense on the suit as a reason to void world records. World records are, by definition, expensive. In the abstract sense the are the ripest fruit made possible by a culture with surplus to share. Subsistence economies do not track world records. At the most practical end of the spectrum they are expensive, not only for the reasons listed above, but at the very least the athlete had to pee in a cup and someone bore the cost of analysis, tracking a b sample, buying malpractice insurance.

    We coach, contest, officiate and cheer for an expensive sport. If we want to complain about a technical innovation where is the elegant well thought out and reasoned criteria by which said innovations can be reliably, and reproducibly, judged and found 'clean', or wanting?

    So a suit might trap some small amount of air, so might the really hairy guy beside my who didn't shave down. Not to mention that poorly fitting cap on the other side.

    Is the suit positively bouyant all on it's own?
    Is the suit propulsive all on it's own?
    Does the suit have a shape all on it's own?

    Yes? No? Easy. Simple. Testable in advance before purchasing or development. Don't like the results? Fine, I'll get off your lawn.

  3. Returning to the age of textile jammers nullifies nearly all of the present day world records. It is wrong to put an astericks next to such records as ian thorpe's 400m free WR, and any other records set by now retired athletes that abided by the rules which governed international swimming for more than a decade. A wise move on USA swimmings/fina's part would be to revise their ruling and actually think things through before they make a decision (for once) that will negatively alter the future of our sport, and deteriorate the validity of nearly every world record in the books. Our sport is rapidly evolving (or starting Jan 1, devolving) in the new age of tech suits, in order to protect our sport we must evolve our way of thinking as our sport has evolved over the last two years. The publicity and attention the sport of swimming has recieved in the last 2 years has been phenominal, in part due to the publicity of new technologies that have devolped in our sport. Now adays it is not uncommon for someone uneducated in the sport of swimming become interested and start asking questions about what these new tech suits in swimming are like to wear, and contain a genuine interist in the sport. This interist has allowed the sport to grow and gain attention tenfold. Lets be honest, the new era of tech suits is better than the new era of astricks's.

  4. Pre-2008 would be no big deal, however I think we are getting a little carried away when we ban the body suit and even legsuit altogether. They have been around for so long with not so much as a whisper of problems (maybe because Speedo was the brand of choice for so long). Now all of a sudden, Speedo isnt king and suddenly the last 9 years have been a sham (according to FINA/Speedo). This screams hypocrisy, corrupt dealings, scandal, and a lot of parents, kids and swimmers who wont even be able to wear that used up legskin anymore.

    Im just wondering if anybody in swimming government think about what theydo before they do it.

  5. So you can not wear a suit that "aid's in his/her speed" but jammers are allowed? so basically, any textile suit with less resistance than skin should now be claimed illegal, hence you can only wear materials on your body that create drag, am i correct? Hypocrisy at its finest. So, now all of a sudden its not ok for men to wear just speedos and women to wear just recordbreakers, for 'personal' reasons we are allowing kneesuits i suppose? well, you know what, im a guy i dont know if i feel comfortable showing my nips in public so can i wear a bodyskin?

  6. why no talk of garrett yet and his job at swimming world magazine?

  7. I think you guys are going overboard with the Speedo conspiracy theory here. People were clearly bitching about the suit issue when it was just the LZR and the Blue70. Besides, most of the recent public outcry has come from the athletes who are sponsored by Speedo and not manufactured by the company itself. The first list was a sham, but there's a semi-legitimate explanation (semi-permeable, no air bubbles, etc) for that. If FINA is really in Speedo's pocket then they'll allow legsuits for 2010 per their request.

    As for the publicity and attention angle...go to right now. Are the handful of world records broken today a front page story? Think again. Look to the side, about six stories down. The headline reads something like "Phelps gets off to fast start at world championships". Obviously this glares a shining light onto the lack of swimming literacy in the mainstream media, as he was off his PB and was in large saved by the rest of his relay and the French choking once again, but it's interesting to note that the records aren't even mentioned until later. Swimming is slowly shifting out of the spotlight, despite the deluge of world records that you would think interest the average fan. My mom knows next to nothing about swimming (besides being a swim mom for about 15 years, all she will say when watching coverage of Worlds is how long the pool is) but even she knows these records mean absolutely nothing.

    I don't think the money issue, in terms of swimmers being sponsored by suits, is going to become worse. Only a few major swimmers signed contracts after Beijing (Piersol and Cavic come to mind), and many of the new suit companies don't seem to be into compensating swimmers for their wearing of their suits, correct me if I'm wrong. Wouldn't you rather have a world where the suit companies have to compete for the swimmers rather where the swimmers have to compete to find the right suit?

    On astericks - won't happen, and it shouldn't. Didn't do it for the East German or Chinese women. The sad part, for me, isn't that swimmers won't swim slower next year - it's that we know truly how fast these current swimmers were in 2008 and 2009. We can guess, but we can never know, and that stains everything swimmers have trained for in the pool.

    Just my two cents on this issue.