Bearded Kitajima Tests Water Cube
Jul 27, 2008
Craig Lord

Double Olympic champion Kosuke Kitajima, hair cut short and beard running from cheek to chin, swept into Beijing today in early readiness for the defense of his breaststroke crowns.

Kitajima and the rest of the Japan team trained at the Olympic Water Cube on Sunday evening. After getting a taste of the venue for a few days, they will leave Beijing for Chejudo in Korea on July 29 and return to Beijing on August 2. Odd to see a team engaged in such toing and froing so near to the main event but Japan has made a tradition of arriving at the host Olympic city first and then heading to other place for training.

Kitajima highlighted the significant nature of the battle of the bodysuits when he prompted a change of policy and heart in the Japanese Swimming Federation: the Olympic champion shattered the 200m breaststroke world record with a 2:07.51 effort at the Japan Open while wearing an LZR Racer. That led to the federation tearing up its contract with local suit suppliers in preference to giving its charges freedom to choose what suit they wear in an age when technology matters.

As head coach to the USA, Mark Schubert, put it: 'My advice to athletes is 'you have a black and white decision - the money or the gold medal'. And it's going to be a real test of character as to what choice they make. There is no doubt the suit makes a difference and there is no doubt that there is one manufacturer that's put millions into research while the other manufacturers are more into fashion. If you take best times of world record holders and their new times, the difference is 2 per cent. Nobody at this level [world-class athletes] can afford to give up 2 per cent. It is not rocket science.' Yes, Schubert is hired by Speedo to say good things about its suit. But what he says is not wrong, far from it. The stats, deep into the rankings, back his assertion