Some Swimmers May Shun Bodysuits

Thursday, July 20th 2000, 12:00 am

By: News On 6

Some of America's top swimmers might shun full-length bodysuits in the Olympic trials, even though the sport's U.S. governing body reversed a ban on the revolutionary outfits.

Backstroker B.J. Bedford and sprinters Bill Pilczuk and Amy Van Dyken are among those considering other suits for the trials that will determine the team for the Sydney Games.

USA Swimming's board of directors voted 15-6 Tuesday night to reverse the ban on the full-length suits in the trials, to be held Aug. 9-16 in Indianapolis.

That means any full-length suit approved by FINA, swimming's world governing body, will be allowed. The suits — some of which cover the entire body except for head, hands and feet — already were cleared for use in Sydney and all other meets.

``I'm really happy,'' said Van Dyken, who last week criticized USA Swimming's ban. ``Even though I may not wear the suits at trials, I like to have freedom of choice. That's what America is all about.''

Several swimmers said they're tired of the fashion debate, especially with the trials just three weeks away. The top two finishers in each event qualify for Sydney.

``It would be nice if they could make the decision and stick to it,'' said Bedford, who had already decided to wear a knee-length suit.

``I would just like to see them make up their mind,'' Pilczuk said. ``There is a bit too much politicking and it's affecting us because we're having to think too much about what suit we're wearing.''

Tom Malchow, who set a world record in the 200-meter butterfly last month wearing the full-length suit, applauded the reversal.

``It's probably the best thing for swimming in the long run. It's going to give people a chance to swim as fast as possible,'' he said. ``You don't want to show up at the Olympics in a suit you haven't worn before.''

USA Swimming had voted less than a month ago to ban the high-tech attire in the trials because of concerns there wouldn't be enough suits to go around. But, facing a grievance from one manufacturer and hearing assurances that all of the 1,300 competitors would have a chance to wear the suits, the governing board changed its mind.

``This was not an easy decision and there are merits to both sides of the issue,'' said Chuck Wielgus, executive director of USA Swimming. ``But with the U.S. Olympic team trials being just three weeks away, it was important to get this issue resolved.''

Pilczuk of Auburn, Ala., believes the full-length suits should be banned for all meets because they favor muscle-bound swimmers over skinnier athletes.

``The whole suit floats you. The more buoyancy you get, the less you have to pull through the water,'' he said. ``When you put material that floats on people who have more muscle, they can float better. I don't think it's a very level playing field.''

Bedford of Colorado Springs, Colo., wore the full-length suit for the first time when she broke the American record in the 50-meter back at last year's World Cup meet in Europe. She prefers the knee-length version.

``They reduce drag and I feel a lot faster and a lot better in the water,'' she said. ``I like the feel of the water because it helps me to know where my body position is.''

Bedford predicted swimmers who are young and inexperienced or who aren't performing well would be most affected by the reversal.

``If you think the suit works for you, it's going to work for you,'' Malchow said. ``Sometimes the mental battle is the hard battle, you can't train for it.''

Pilczuk, the '98 world champion in the 50 freestyle, plans to experiment at the trials. He'll wear the knee-length version in the preliminaries and switch to the full-length suit in the semifinals. Whichever one he's fastest in will be worn in the finals.

USA Swimming asked four leading suit manufacturers — TYR, adidas, Speedo and Nike — to make their high-tech suits available to all swimmers by June 14, giving them plenty of time to get comfortable in the new attire before the trials.

When only adidas met the deadline, the board voted June 22 to ban full-length suits at the trials. Afterward, the manufacturers insisted they could handle the demand.

Nike said last week that it had switched its production lines to turn out suits in compliance with the ban, and spokesman Bob Mitchell said Wednesday the company will have enough full-length suits to outfit its 300 swimmers.

Malchow said it's time for the suit to take a backseat to the swimmers.

``The suit shouldn't detract from the overall feel of the meet. The meet should be about swimming and the times and the people,'' he said. ``This suit is getting as much attention right now as any individual. Hopefully, the suit story will die eventually.''

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