'Shark' swimsuit leaves question marks over true form

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The Independent Online

Dual Olympic gold medalist Kieren Perkins says debate over the legality of neck-to-ankle swimsuits will taint any records set before strict guidelines are imposed to govern the use of the controversial bodysuits.

Perkins set the 1,500 metres freestyle world record at 14 minutes, 41.66 seconds in 1994 but his long-standing record is under threat from Grant Hackett, his compatriot and current world champion at the distance, who is an advocate of the Fastskin bodysuits.

"As the way the issue stands, people are probably right in wondering whether or not breaking records in the suits will leave a little bit of a bad taste in people's mouths," he said..

Susie O'Neill, Australia's leading female swimmer, has also expressed doubts about the validity of records set by swimmers using bodysuits.

The 1996 Atlanta Olympic gold medalist has said she was concerned that if she breaks swimming's oldest world record wearing a bodysuit, it could diminish her achievement.

O'Neill has spent years trying to eclipse American Mary T. Meagher's 200-meter butterfly world mark of 2 minutes, 5.96 seconds, set in 1981, and has been just 0.57 seconds away from it - closer than any other swimmer.

"I've been training really well. If I stand up and break the world record, everybody's going to think it's the suit," she said.

Perkins said a failure by the Court of Arbitration for Sport to clarify the legality of the bodysuits was certain to spark protests at the May 13-20 Australian Olympic selection trials.

He supported the Australian Olympic Committee's bid to have the issue determined by the CAS before the trials in order to avoid legal challenges from swimmers who wore regular swimsuits but were edged out of the team by swimmers using bodysuits.

CAS arbitrator Richard McLaren returned an advisory opinion Monday backing the decision of FINA, the international swimming federation, to accept advice from its FINA bureau and sanction the bodysuits in October last year.

The AOC says the bodysuits contain performance-enhancing technology and could be categorized as a device, not as a swimming costume. FINA rules prohibit any device which aids a swimmer's speed, buoyancy or endurance during competition.