Gould: Suit Has Changed Swimming Forever
Craig Lord
Aussie legend joins chorus of descent in bodysuit debate; Nike-backed China gives swimmers choice of what suit they will wear at a home Games

The obvious effects of the LZR on performance have not escaped the attentions of Shane Gould, winner of a record five solo medals, among them three gold, at the 1972 Olympic Games. Now 51, Gould told the Aussie media: 'These new swimsuits are a performance-enhancing device and it's changed the sport forever'.

The LZR has been worn by swimmers on their way to setting 44 of the 48 world long- and short-course records seen so far this year.

Gould called on FINA to think again in the calm days after the Games in Beijing, saying: 'I think they (FINA) really need to look at their own processes regarding how they approve a suit. It seems in complete contradiction to their own rules. I think they've been caught out.'

FINA's rule states: that 'no swimmer shall be permitted to use or wear any device that may aid his speed, buoyancy or endurance during a competition'. The thorny word is 'device'. The rule, it is said, was designed to avoid use of paddles, flippers, scales and fins etc ... not suits. But now that the suit is more device than fabric in terms of its obvious effect on performance, there is serious doubt about whether the rule book is being broken with official consent.

'What are the protocols? How exactly do they test the suits?' asks Gould. 'The suits are a development, but I don't think they're a good development.'

There are some senior figures in FINA who have started to air such views themselves, albeit in private. The LZR is made of woven elastene-nylon and polyurethane. Compression factors are key to its performance-enhancing qualities.

The latest nation to go with the bodysuit flow is China, host Olympic nation. Like Japan, it has extended choice to its charges. 'Swimmers will wear the suits that they feel most comfortable with in the Olympics,' coach Zhang Yadong told Xinhua. 'It is not that we are switching suits. We just agreed to allow swimmers to choose their own suits.

The Chinese swimming team ended years of cooperation with Speedo after the Athens Games and switched to its current sponsor Nike. Swimmers were supposed to wear the Nike Swift at the Beijing Olympics, according to the contract. But that, like so many other contracts in the battle of the bodysuits, has been set aside.