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Swimming: Japanese coach urges swimsuit war at Olympics PDF Print E-mail
Saturday, 26 April 2008

by Shigemi Sato*

A Japanese Olympic swimming coach on Thursday urged domestic makers to rival Speedo's record-breaking swimsuit, which one athlete likened to performance-enhancing drugs.
"It's swimsuit doping," Norimasa Hirai, who coaches defending double Olympic breaststroke champion Kosuke Kitajima and others, quoted one of his charges as saying of the LZR Racer.
"I'm not worried about Kitajima himself but the swimsuit is my biggest worry," Hirai told reporters after he had several swimmers test the outfit during Olympic training at Tokyo's National Training Centre.
Of the 19 new world records set in the pool since February, the LZR Racer has been used in 18 of them.
Japanese Olympic swimmers are obliged by the national federation to wear products supplied on contract by one of three Japanese makers — Mizuno, Asics and Descente — at the Beijing Games.
"If unabated, it will definitely change the number of Olympic medals we can get. I want the Japanese makers to develop similar products," Hirai said on Thursday.
Japan are aiming for five swimming medals in Beijing, compared with eight at the Athens Olympics, which included Kitajima's wins in the 100-metres and 200m breaststroke.
The coach said one swimmer improved his time for the first 15 metres by 0.7 seconds while wearing the Speedo suit. "I can imagine that in general the product means a difference of 0.5 second over 100 metres and one second over 200 metres."
He quoted the swimmers as saying that the LZR Racer was "totally different" from conventional swimsuits, as it allowed the body to float better and prevented the legs from sinking after diving.
"It's a swimsuit at a different dimension," one of the swimmers said, according to Hirai. "We can't put up with fighting with a handicap," he quoted another as saying.
The LZR Racer was developed with the help of hydromechanic experts from the US space agency NASA. It uses a high-tech fabric of water-resistant polyurethane and is structured to squeeze the swimmer's body into the right posture.
The international swimming federation FINA endorsed its use this month.
Mizuno already this month unveiled a "water-friendly" suit ahead of the August Games. Kitajima, 25, wore the outfit to win the 100-metre and 200-metre races at the national championships this month, which served as the Olympic trials.
In the 200m, he clocked 2 minutes 8.84 seconds, the best in the world this year, to break his own five-year-old national record.
But when asked in a recent television interview whether the suits helped improve his time, Kitajima said he was unsure. "What is important is that you convince yourself that you swim fast when you wear this swimsuit," he added.


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