Swimmers adjusting to life without high-tech suits
FEDERAL WAY, Wash. (AP)Rebecca Soni isn't sure how fast she'll go at this week's U.S. Short Course National Championships.
But she knows what kind of swimsuit she'll be wearing.
So will everyone else. And that's fine with Soni, who returned to a conventional suit during the Minneapolis Grand Prix in November.
"I think it's great. I really enjoyed swimming with the (current) new suits in Minnesota," Soni said. "I didn't really know what to expect. It's very different, but I'm also very excited about it.
Since 2008 the high-performance suits led to nearly 200 world records. The suits have been banned in the United States since October and are facing a worldwide ban in January.
Soni will be back in a more conventional textile suit when she competes Thursday through Saturday in the King County Aquatic Center.
"It's obviously a lot easier for us, because we don't have to spend half an hour putting them on," Soni added, laughing.
The use of polyurethane and neoprene suits, which cut down on fatigue and gave swimmers more buoyancy and speed, led to a significant rewriting of the record books. At last summer's world championships in Rome, 43 world records were set.
FINA, the world governing body of swimming, won't allow the suits to be used in any competition after this year. But United States swimming officials has banned them since Oct. 1.
"It's really going to affect the times, but it was for the best," said Ariana Kukors, a world championship gold medalist in the 200-meter individual medley last summer in Rome, which she won in a world-record time of 2:06.15. "It will be good for the swimmers because it puts more of the focus back on us and our training. It will still be exciting to watch it."
Eric Shanteau, another U.S. Olympian, said he sees valid points to both sides of the swimsuit issue.
"I think one of the reasons swimming has struggled for popularity outside of Olympic years is people want to see fast swimming year-round, and the suits helped with that," Shanteau said. "At the same time the suits took away some of the finer points of swimming. You maybe didn't have to train as hard or have as fine a technique."
Shanteau said he hasn't even put on one of the new suits yet. But Soni has, and she did notice a difference in Minneapolis last month.
"I still swam pretty well," she said. "For a while, I would assume it's going to be a lot slower. But this is a pretty big meet, and people will be coming in a little more rested. I'm sure people will swim fast but not last-summer fast."
Swimsuits aside, the competition is expected to bring out some speedy times. Among the entrants are Olympic gold medalists Garrett Weber-Gale and Peter Vanderkaay of the U.S., Japanese Olympic double-gold medalist Kosuke Kitajima, and Olympic bronze medalist Caroline Burckle.
Ultimately, Shanteau said, the suit isn't the whole story.
"Part of swimming fast times is getting past the mental block and knowing that you're capable of doing that time," he said. "You'll probably people who will never get back (to where they were with the fast suits) and you'll probably have people who pick up right where they left off.
"That's going to be the interesting part of watching the sport for the next year or so," he said.