Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Japanese swimmers likely to get OK to use Speedo swimsuits in Olympics

Japanese swimmers from left, Reiko Nakamura, Takeshi Matsuda, Kosuke Kitajima, Haruka Ueda, and Yoshihiro Okumura, appear in Speedo swimsuits at the Japan Open on Friday.
Japanese swimmers from left, Reiko Nakamura, Takeshi Matsuda, Kosuke Kitajima, Haruka Ueda, and Yoshihiro Okumura, appear in Speedo swimsuits at the Japan Open on Friday.

The Japan Swimming Federation appears likely to lift a ban on the use of Speedo swimsuits for Japanese Olympic athletes, after five national records were broken Friday by competitors wearing the swimsuit manufacturer's LZR Racer suits.

New national records were set in five of the 10 finals at the Japan Open on Friday, all by swimmers wearing the LZR Racer. The swimming federation has not permitted the use of Speedo's swimsuits in the upcoming Olympic Games in Beijing, instead having swimmers choose from three manufacturers whom it has contracts. However, it appears certain that the federation will give Speedo suits the green light at a board of directors meeting on Tuesday.

In the Japan Open at Tokyo Tatsumi International Swimming Center on Friday, Kosuke Kitajima set a new national record of 59.44 seconds in the final of the men's 100-meter breaststroke, beating his own record set three years earlier. In the final of the women's 200 meter freestyle, meanwhile, Haruka Ueda broke a national record that had stood for nine years.

Other national record breakers wearing the LZR Racer were Takeshi Matsuda in the men's 200 meter butterfly, Reiko Nakamura in the women's 100 meters backstroke, and Yoshihiro Okumura in the men's 200 meter freestyle.

Speaking on the run of new national records, Koji Ueno, manager of Japan's national team, said the LZR had produced a good response. He said his concern was for the athletes who belonged to other companies (such as Mizuno), suggesting that the Japan Swimming Federation would move in the direction of allowing Speedo's swimsuits.

Norimasa Hirai, a national team coach who coaches Kitajima has gone as far as to assert, "If swimmers don't wear the LZR Racer, they won't be able to compete in Beijing Olympics" in terms of performance.

The five swimmers who produced national records all wore swimsuits produced by Japanese manufacturers during the qualifying rounds. Ai Shibata, who won a gold medal in the 800 meters freestyle at the 2004 Olympic Games wore a swimsuit that a Japanese manufacturer had improved at the request of the Japan Swimming Federation, but failed to produce an outstanding time.

At present, Japan's Olympic swimmers are supposed to choose from swimsuits provided by three manufacturers with which the Japan Swimming Federation has contracts: Mizuno, Descente and Asics. However, calls for swimmers to adopt the LZR Racer have arisen since foreign swimmers wearing the suits have broken world records.

"The Speedo suit is great, as the results show," Kitajima said. "I've worn Mizuno swimsuits for many years, so I also want them to try their best."

(Mainichi Japan) June 7, 2008

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