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Suit debate is a drag for swimmers

The debate about allowing full-length bodysuits at next month's Olympic trials has become a drag on American swimmers, some of whom already have decided to stay away from the speedy outfits.

The debate about allowing full-length bodysuits at next month's Olympic trials has become a drag on American swimmers, some of whom already have decided to stay away from the speedy outfits.

USA Swimming's decision to allow the suits was greeted with mixed reactions today from some swimmers who are tired of the dickering just three weeks before the team is chosen for the Sydney Games.

"It would be nice if they could make the decision and stick to it," backstroker B.J. Bedford said.

The 15-6 vote on Tuesday night reversed an earlier ban on the revolutionary suits at the trials, to be held August 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 at the Sydney Olympics and all other meets.

"I would just like to see them make up their mind," sprinter Bill Pilczuk of Auburn, Ala., 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 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 at 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 believes the full-length suits should be banned for all meets because they favour 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."

The reversal won't affect Bedford of Colorado Springs, Colorado, who previously decided to wear a knee-length suit in the backstroke events at Indianapolis. "If I'm ready to swim and I'm shaved and tapered, I could swim in a paper bag," she said.

Bedford 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.

Pilczuk, the '98 world champion in the 50 freestyle, plans to experiment with suits 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.