Monday, September 14, 2009

Top Swimmers Welcome FINA Swimsuit News

blueseventy issued the following statement regarding the news that technical swimsuits will be allowed in FINA open water competitions:

Swimmers, including English Channel world record holder Petar Stoychev, have welcomed news that body suits will be allowed in open water events next year. Stoychev holds a key position on the FINA athletes commission and is calling on the world governing body to secure the safety of athletes and development of the sport by ensuring that technical body suits remain in the sport for the future.

Body suits, such as the blueseventy Nero 10k, have been outlawed for pool swimming, but FINA has confirmed that the same rules will not apply to open water swimming.

The FINA press office said, "The new rules relating to swimwear do not apply to open water. They apply to swimming." However, the types of fabrics to be permitted are yet to be determined.

Stoychev [shown on left in Beijing] commented, "At every technical meeting prior to a race FINA officials aways say that the health of the swimmers is the most important thing. Full body suits protect the skin from sunburn and dangerous jellyfish. I was hospitalized after a sting in China in 2002 and it is much safer when the skin is covered by a suit."

"There are no world records in open water. We don’t race against time, just against each other, so there are not the same considerations as in the pool. I agree that Channel swimming is different, it’s right that technical suits are not allowed, but we need them on other races for the future of the sport."

Introduced to the Olympics for the first time in Beijing, open water swimming has seen a massive boom in popularity since. However, for the sport to progress the use of bodysuits and wetsuits is paramount.

Stoychev also feels strongly that commercial involvement in the sport is vital. He said, "Our sport was in the Olympics for the first time in Beijing and I feel it’s important that we have more opportunities for commercial involvement in order to progress. It is nice to have companies like blueseventy produce suits specifically for open water."

The Nero 10k suit is a specific open water suit, and was worn by Olympic champion Maarten van der Weijden in Beijing last year and by medal winners in World Championships in Rome.

Van der Weijden [shown above in Beijing] commented, "The swimwear debate is particularly poignant at age group level, where the sport needs to attract novices. And at elite level, races vary in terms of temperature as well as actual water conditions, I’m pleased this is being taken into account rather than just apply the same rules that apply for the pool."

With events such as this weekend’s Great North Swim in the UK attracting thousands of competitors, swimming has a fantastic opportunity to increase participation and interest in the sport. Access to technical swimwear, and wetsuits for beginners, can only help ensure that more people feel confident to dive in to open water.

Steve Nicholls from blueseventy commented, "We are pleased that body suits will remain in the sport of open water swimming. It’s the right move to bring even greater numbers to open water swimming and increase overall participation in swimming."

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Lame. Poor decision.

Steven Munatones said...

We cannot predict how the individual race directors will respond. We believe there will be three general camps developing over time: (1) traditional races like the NYC Swim events in New York that will only allow traditional swimsuits, (2) new races like the Great Swim series in the UK that allow anything up to a full wetsuit, and (3) races like the Pennock Challenge in Alaska that allow swimmers to choose what division they wish to compete in: naked or wetsuit.

It is unclear how the individual race directors will decide how to define the technical swimsuits: are they wetsuits or not?

Of course, swimmers always have the option to compete in traditional wear - taking pride in their ability to withstand the open water elements and compete as pool swimmers did up until the 1992 Olympics.

The FINA ruling also does not impact - at all - the traditional solo swims or relays such as the English Channel, Catalina Channel or Cook Strait.

Robert Alford said...

Are flippers next? Come on, if you are not in good enough shape to complete the swim, train harder. You should not depend on a tech/wetsuit to get you through. This is about sponsorships and money. Professional open water swimmers needs sponsorships to stay "pros", hence the tech suits. Blueseventy, Speedo, and Arena all see this as a money making opportunity. Swim naked I say.

Steven Munatones said...

Robert, we understand your viewpoint well. Allow us to provide additional background information:

1. The number of professional marathon swimmers around the world is probably no more than 50-60 swimmers annually (that is, swimmers who win cash prizes over US$1,000 per year). The number of significantly smaller if we talk about the number of open water athletes who actually make a profit from their swimming lifestyle.

2. There are several dozens of pool swimmers who receive much more sponsorship and support than open water swimmers, especially in major swimming countries around the world, than even the most successful open water swimmer.

3. blueseventy, Speedo and Arena are responding to the marketplace demands. As the press release states, over 6,000 swimmers participated in the Great North Swim in Lake Windermere, England, a large majority swam with wetsuits. For decades, the British Long Distance Swimming Association has held races in the same location and the number of athletes never exceeded 200 athletes in any one race (we believe). So, in one race alone, the sport grew by at least 5,000 participants and, one might argue, this was partly due to the ability to wear wetsuits.

4. On this blog in a poll conducted last year, nearly 60% of the readers were against technical swimsuits.

Anonymous said...

In the Great North Swim in Windermere the watertemperature was between 14 and 17 degrees. I think its ok to wear a wetsuit there.Why not. Its a mass participation event for fun. And it was. I liked it. Its diffrent.
And I think to wear full suits is also good because it covers more skin in case of a jeallyfish sting or whatever. And we are not chasing times, we are fighting each other.

David Krahulik said...

Interesting. An uncomfortable technical suit worn for almost 2 hours could end up being more of a hindrance than help. I guess that considering the pack aspect of top level open water swimming that the suit would be most useful in conserving the core and aiding the final sprint. My personal concern is to keep these types of suits from perverting age group results.

Steven Munatones said...

David, thank you very much for making that point about pack swimming. Very astute! Many of the same athletes (e.g., Thomas Lurz, Angela Maurer, Britta Kamrau, Larisa Ilchenko, Petar Stoychev, Esther Nunez) have been on the professional circuits for many years. These athletes were at the top before the Speedo LZR, blueseventy and other such suits were used - and continue to be on top. In fact, some of these athletes have used various swimsuits in different races - and they still come out on top. This would seem to indicate that the final placing in elite open water is more dependent on the training and capabilities of the athlete than the technical swimsuit - which is all that we can ask for. We are also wondering if the buoyancy factors are relatively less or greater in the open water vs. the pool. It would also be interesting to test and learn if compression panels used in the technical swimsuits are a greater relative advantage in the pool or over a 5K-25K race in the open water.

Anonymous said...

Steve,
In my opinion, swimming competition is swimming competition wherever it is held, open water or pool. The decision to allow different swimming costumes to be used for pool & open water is outrageous.We know body suits help swimmers go faster otherwise why do swimmers use them. You only have to read the Blue Seventy propaganda to confirm that statement.Swim costumes were invented for modesty not to be racing machines available to a few. CSA costume rules [see website] should appy to all otherwise it is not an even playing field. Perhaps the only answer is we will need to have separate competitions for those competitors in pool costumes, those in wetsuits and those in "technical suits.

Steven Munatones said...

Thank you very much for your comments and viewpoints. The various sides of this issue are very good to hear and understand.