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Sunday, June 15, 2008
Swim fed made right call on suits
By ED ODEVEN
It's been a strange year in the pool. The swimsuit has created more headlines than the swimmer.
Specifically, of course, I'm referring to the latest technological craze, Speedo's LZR Racer, which has been donned by dozens of elite-level swimmers this year en route to world-record-shattering marks.
Those marks have been chronicled in countless publications spanning the globe, so there's no need to to go into great detail that, yeah, Speedo's new suit has achieved the desired result: speedy swimming times.
But now the story gets even bigger.
The latest swimmer to topple a world record, you ought to know by now, is double-Olympic gold medalist Kosuke Kitajima, who rewrote the record books with a blistering time of 2 minutes, 7.51 seconds in the 200-meter breaststroke on June 8 at the Japan Open — and yes, he wore the LZR Racer at the meet, a fact that almost every individual in Japan has now learned.
He swam the race 0.99 seconds faster than U.S. standout and top rival Brandon Hansen's old record.
Two days later, the Japan Swimming Federation made a decision that was hardly surprising, granting this nation's Olympic swimmers the permission to wear the Speedo swimsuit in Beijing.
Mizuno Corp., Descente Corp., and Asics Corp., the three Japanese manufacturers under contract to provide swimsuits for the Japan Olympic squad, are now left in the awkward position of playing catch up to Speedo in an Olympic year (and the foreseeable future), when positive PR has gushed like water out of the mouths of swimmers while discussing their views of the benefits of wearing the LZR Racer.
And, hey, the message is quite simple in any language: Swimmers want to swim fast.
The research and development teams of the aforementioned three corporations are in a race against the clock to make the next top-flight, drag-reduction suit.
Talk about motivation!
In the meantime, it can only serve everyone's best interest if Mizuno, Descente and Asics refrain from making negative attacks on Speedo during the buildup to the Olympics. It would only serve as a distraction for the swimmers, coaches and fans of the high-paced sport.
Mizuno President Akito Mizuno has provided the proper response in comments distributed widely in the Japanese press.
"Mizuno will respect and accept the decision by the Japan Swimming Federation," Mizuno said. "We also think that athletes should finally judge which swimwear they would choose. We are facing the results in the recent Japan Open sincerely."
At the Japan Open, a three-day meet at Tokyo Tatsumi International Swimming Center, 16 national records were set by swimmers wearing the LZR Racer last weekend.
Mizuno added: "We try to do our best to improve and upgrade our swimwear as long as time permits so that Mizuno's swimwear could be chosen by as many swimmers as possible (for Beijing and the future). We think it is our responsibility as a manufacturer."
Kitajima, Mizuno's most high-profile client, will wear the LZR Racer in Beijing. This decision may complicate his sponsorship dealings in the future, but if he wins a gold or two in Beijing, he'll be praised for making the switch.
"I have fretted a lot (over this decision)," he was quoted as saying in a Kyodo News story on Wednesday. "In order to show my best performance to all the people supporting me, I think this is the right choice at this point and time."
And now he begins the final two-month countdown to Beijing, a time in which the focus needs to be on physical conditioning and not about which suit he will be wearing in the pool.
Kitajima and the Japan Olympic swim team arrived in Flagstaff, Ariz., on Thursday for a grueling stretch of days at Northern Arizona University's Center for High Altitude Training.
The next few weeks will be a key time period for the group as it puts the distraction of the swimsuit fiasco behind it. The swimmers all have the option of wearing Speedo, Mizuno, Asics or Descente suits. So they'll wear them, and they'll try to swim as fast as possible.
In e-mail correspondence with Sean Anthony, the assistant director at the Center for High Altitude Training, the topic of the Japan Olympic swim team's return to Arizona was the topic du jour early Saturday morning (Japan time).
Anthony, who has known Kitajima and his Tokyo Swimming Center coach, Norimasa Hirai, for a decade has keenly observed the changes over the years that have occurred between Japan's most famous aquatics pool men.
He's seen them before and after the last several World Swimming Championships, in the buildup to the Athens Olympics and after it in the back-to-the-grind atmosphere of 2005.
"Both Kosuke and Nori seem more relaxed and confident than I have seen them in a while," Anthony wrote. "Nori made a point of telling me that he does not feel as much pressure as he did a few years back when Kosuke was fighting some injuries and illness.
"Now he's healthy, injury-free, confident and very, very fast."
Yeah, the swimsuit's part of the reason. But credit the swimmer, too.
Kitajima has put in the time in the gym and in the pool to stay in shape 365 days a year, and be in a position to defend his gold medals in the 100 and 200 breaststroke in Beijing.