Kitajima Wins Again: Japan Rips Up Suit Contracts
Jun 10, 2008
Craig Lord

Wisdom has prevailed in Japan: the Federation there has torn up its contracts (sure they wouldn't wish to use that language but that's what it amounts to) with three suit makers to allow its swimmers to wear whatever they wish when pursuing Olympic glory in Beijing.

The decision follows a campaign by Kosuke Kitajima (JPN), made all the more poignant by his setting of the world 200m breaststroke record at 2:07.71 in a suit not of the federation's previously restricted choice, to have choice left with the swimmer. The Olympic champion wore a t-shirt proclaiming 'I am the Swimmer'.

The Japanese federation has an agreement with Mizuno, Asics and Descente but if it can be proved that others suits are aiding performance and are therefore the natural choice of swimmers and there is no obstacle in international swimming rules, the the federation's actions may stand up to legal scrutiny. There is ample evidence that the latest generation of certain bodysuits is aiding performance.

Federation vice-chairman Kazuo Sano told agency reporters: 'In order to get the best results in Beijing, we took into account the opinions of the athletes and coaches. They are the ones who must deliver.'

The decision holds faith with history. At a time when Japan was at its strongest in Olympic waters - 1932 onwards, with that blip of shame and exclusion caused by the nation's status as an aggressor in the Second World War - it looked everywhere it could for an edge: first to use oxygen before races, first to wear silk suits, first to win by exploiting loopholes on breaststroke by racing underwater (Tsuruta, 1928, 1932; Mararu Furukawa, 1956) and the first to win by exploiting a backstroke loophole (Daichi Suzuki, 1988).

The Japanese media applauded the decision of the federation. The Daily Yomiuri wrotes an editorial including the following:

'Speedo's high-tech LZR Racer is no ordinary swimsuit. Its incredible performance is obvious: Swimmers wearing the swimsuit have shattered dozens of records. We think it is only fair to help Japan's swimmers perform at their best at the Beijing Olympics by letting them pick the swimwear they prefer.

'The Japan Swimming Federation on Tuesday decided to allow Japanese national team swimmers to wear the British-made LZR Racer at the August Games.

'Double Olympic champion Kosuke Kitajima smashed the 200-meter breaststroke world record at the Japan Open on Sunday while wearing the LZR Racer. Sixteen of 17 national records established during the same meet were set by swimmers wearing the revolutionary swimwear.

'The federation has contracts with three domestic sportswear companies--Mizuno Corp., Descente, Ltd. and Asics Corp. Japan's national team swimmers are obliged to wear products made by any of these three companies for the Games.

'Never before has swimwear been at the center of so much attention. With the swimsuits seemingly the only topic on swimming fans' lips, the athletes themselves might be forgiven for thinking that the long hours they spend training everyday are getting less credit than they deserve. As the row bubbled away, Kitajima showed up at the Japan Open while wearing a T-shirt that read in English, Japanese and Chinese, ''I am the swimmer'.

'We see nothing wrong with providing swimmers who will take their marks on the biggest stage of all at the Olympics with the equipment that could help them set a record. Allowing national team swimmers to wear the LZR Racer will put them on an equal footing with athletes from other countries.

'We hope Japan's swimmers choose the swimwear they felt most comfortable in and give it their best shot in Beijing.'

The paper also noted the following under a headline 'A loss for Japan's industry':

'The three companies look set to accept the federation's decision. This would be a virtual admission that they have been swept aside in the development race to create the world's most optimal swimwear. The material used for the LZR Racer is made from chemical compounds--an industry that has been one of Japan's strongest. It is indeed a shame that Japanese companies have fallen behind Speedo in this contest.

'The three companies have certainly supported Japan's swimmers over the years. However, it seems they have fallen into the trap of resting on their laurels after signing contracts with the federation.'