Controversial 'shark' swimsuit made available

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The Independent Online

Speedo International is making its controversial neck-to-ankle swimsuit available to "all competitive swimmers" - even if they're not sponsored by the company.

The announcement comes two days after Australian two-time Olympic gold medalist Kieren Perkins complained that the "Fastskin" suits - which mimic shark skin and are said to improve performance by 3 per cent - weren't available to everybody.

The world governing body of swimming, FINA, has approved the suit, although the Australian Olympic Committee has filed for a hearing in the Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sports to test the bodysuit's legality.

"It's not just Speedo (sponsored) swimmers, the suit will be available to all Olympic and (reserve team) swimmers who wish to get one," Speedo spokeswoman Gina Curry said.

She said the Nottingham, England-based company was producing 6,000 suits for distribution by the third week of April. Speedo said the suits would be available "free of charge."

"As far as we know there is still the argument in Australia but it's FINA-approved and unless something happens in the meantime it will be completely legal for the Olympics," Curry said.

FINA honorary secretary Gunnar Werner said Speedo and other swimwear manufacturers had agreed to make their suits available to sponsored and non-sponsored swimmers.

"We have no interest in going back on the rules we have," Werner said. "So far FINA is satisfied with the rules it has set up. We have looked at them (Speedo suits) and there is no reason not to accept these suits. We've found the suits did not violate the FINA guidelines."

Werner said the fabric used in Speedo's new suit was "basically the same" as the material used in Speedo bodysuits worn at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. He said FINA was convinced the fabric did not aid buoyancy, although some swimmers have said it changes the body angle in the water.

"The only difference is the legs are longer and the arms are covered," Werner said. "Nobody reacted against them at the time."

Speedo claims the new suit is a "significant development" from the older "Aquablade" suit.

The "Fastskin" suit was worn Sunday for the first time in an official competitive meet. Australian Michael Klim clocked 48.72 seconds to better his won Commonwealth 100-meter record by 0.01 second.

Grant Hackett also wore the suit and beat Perkins at 400 meters, which promoted Perkins to react.

"As it stands it is impossible to get a Speedo suit and it's going to create a situation where there's those that have and those that have not and I don't believe that's fair or right in this sport," Perkins said.

The "Fastskin" suit will hit the worldwide retail market Sept. 1 and cost £70 - £200.