Swimming: 'Does my bum look fast in this?' ask British team

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The Independent Online

As the British Championships began here last night with Olympic places up for grabs and 17-year-old Fran Halsall in the spotlight, swimsuits as much as the athletes inside them remained the sport's hottest talking point.

Halsall anchored Great Britain's all-teenage 4x100m medley relay gold medalists at the European Championships last week, and was in action in the 100m freestyle heats last night. Berths in the relay squads offer her most realistic chance of Games medals this summer though she is a prospect on her own for 2012.

As for the suits: LZR Racer or TechFit PowerWeb? The first is made by Speedo in association with Nasa. It has no seams, does not absorb water, and has been worn by athletes who have broken an astonishing 17 world records since it was launched last month.

The second is made by adidas, and incorporates the "compression technology" used in figure-hugging gear worn by sprinters such as Tyson Gay with "thermoplastic urethane powerbands". In layman's terms, those are strips of shiny material that cradle muscles, and working in unison with them, act as springs.

Halsall yesterday endorsed the adidas suit, talking with what seemed like genuine pride about how she and other British swimmers had actually helped develop it. With involvement comes genuine belief, it seems.

Only time will tell whether a particular suit – or rather the confidence it inspires – makes a difference. The LZR records have been set mostly by Australians, who happen to be among the world's best swimmers. And even one of them, Libby Tricket (née Lenton), who set new 100m and 50m freestyle marks last week, said over the weekend that to give excess credit to the suit was "ridiculous". "[The LZR] is an evolution of the technology that we've already had. It's an Olympic year and a lot of these world records have stood for a while and should be broken."

British Swimming is sponsored by Speedo, but the British Olympic team will be sponsored by adidas. Britain's swimmers have a free choice over what gear to wear in China.

For the first time, this week's finals will be in the mornings. That will be the case too in Beijing, because of the demands of American television.

Britain has already pre-qualified three swimmers for the Games: David Davies in the 1,500m freestyle, Liam Tancock in the 100m backstroke and Kirsty Balfour in the 200m breaststroke.

Halsall and her relay team will be seeking good times this week to fuel hopes of an Olympic final, or even a medal. Both the women's and men's 200m freestyle swimmers will be fighting for individual Olympic berths as well as relay team places, where medals are more likely.

Mark Foster, 37, will draw attention in this morning's 50m free heats, four years after controversially being left out of Britain's Athens squad.