TYR Takes Battle Of BodySuits To Court
May 15, 2008
Craig Lord

The battle of the bodysuits is getting tighter, courtesy of a lawsuit in which TYR is suing ... well, quite a few folk, it seems: Speedo; Mark Schubert, the head coach to the USA who was on teams when the head of TYR, Steve Furniss, was still racing in his USA togs; USA Swimming, the federation; and, for good measure, Erik Vendt, who decided that he wanted to race in an LZR Racer from Speedo.

According to an article in the Los Angeles Times picked up by our colleagues over at Swimming World, 'Huntington Beach's TYR Sport Inc. upped the stakes by filing suit on Monday in federal court against Warnaco Swimwear Inc., parent company of Speedo and producer of the news-making LZR Racer swimsuit. TYR did not specify the damages it was seeking but did estimate that the long-term loss to the value of its brand could reach $500,000.'

What a mess. And one of the making of all those who did not stop to think about the consequences of stuffing their suits full of technology that took the sport of swimming a few strokes beyond where it had ever gone in terms of diminishing the purity of an athlete's performance.

The evidence for the performance-enhancing qualities of the LZR is stacked high with more than 30 world records, long and short, since February 16. Then there's the 400 plus performances monitored by SwimNews at the 2008 world s/c championships in Manchester, which proved Schubert's 2% gain claim correct: those swims, in LZR's, came in at 1.6% to 2.3%. Beyond coincidence.

In documents filed in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, which cite articles penned by this author, TYR alleges that Speedo, USA Swimming and Schubert 'combined to engage in a campaign of falsely disparaging the products of Speedo's competitors, including TYR, for the purpose of inducing competitive swimmers to refrain from doing business with Speedo's competitors,' according to the LA Times. Moreover, those parties had done so in an 'especially insidious and deceptive manner'.

Furniss is said to have taken action with 'great reluctance'. You can read more about that at the LA Times. The case against Vendt rests on alleged breach of contract.

No idea whether he has a case to answer or not, nor whether TYR's case is strong but one thing is for sure: caveat emptor is the watchword for swimmers. Don't sign anything unless you're happy to have your freedom taken away. Which leaves the whole compression suit-makers market in a tight spot, even those that for now appear to have cause to celebrate.

I spoke to a source close to the design heart of one big company today that feels that it has been given carte blanche to produce a suit that will go beyond what the LZR is doing. Fighting talk - and the inevitable path down which the sport was sure to float the moment world records started falling like nine pins back in February.

The action against Speedo and Schubert is more tenuous, it seems to me from a distance, unless TYR intend to sue FINA and all national federations too. Each one of those parties is free to act as they wish within the bounds of the law. And choosing one suit over another - and recommending one suit over another - and getting paid to do so - is not a crime. Or is it? Time and the US Court will tell. Conflict of interest? Probably a stronger case for that.

'TYR is very concerned about some of the things that are happening in the world of elite competitive swimming, and wants to see the issue about whose product is better resolved by swimmers in the pool,' a TYR spokesperson told the LA Times, who called claims of Speedo's hold on new and innovative technology based on 'misinformation'. More than 30 world records and a tidal wave of similar improvements across the board at a world title event appears to suggest that any misinformation must be based on claims against other suits that may have been made, though I never once heard a Speedo rep say a single word about anyone else's suit. They did say much about their own suit, of course, which, we take it, is perfectly within the bounds of all laws.

Schubert has indeed been recommending that swimmers wear Speedo, at least in the sense that he described the choice of suit faced by swimmers as 'a black and white decision', given the LZR's properties. He was, as far as I was and am aware, speaking as a coach responsible for ensuring that his swimmers win in Beijing. In Manchester, Schubert at said to have gathered his troops to tell them that the Speedo suit would give them a 2% advantage. In all probability, he was as close to truth as he could get in terms of an advantage over an athlete's own previous performances. The question is: why did he not say the same about the TYR Tracer Rise? Is he, as head coach to USA Swimming, and is USA Swimming itself, obliged to recommend all suits? Are they within their rights to accept money from a manufacturer of a swim suit and then contributing to the spread of that company's products?

The jury will be out at some point. The jury on swimming as a sport was called the moment the thud of falling records echoed beyond the boundaries of the pool: some of them will take their seats not in court this summer but in the Olympic media stands overlooking the pool that they visit once every four years.