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Swimming: Top coach fears Fina may ban `longjohns'

A TOP Australian swimming coach warned yesterday that the new "longjohn" swimsuits favoured by Britain's European champions, Paul Palmer and Sue Rolph may be outlawed by the world governing body, Fina.

And, looking ahead to the approaching Pan Pacific Championships, the Australian head coach, Don Talbot, has warned his own country's world champions, Michael Klim and Ian Thorpe, that they risk losing any records they set if they choose to wear the revolutionary neck-to-ankle suits.

The championships start in Sydney on Sunday and Talbot said any swimmer using the suits could theoretically be stripped of world records if Fina subsequently declares them illegal. "They might [be stripped] if it proves to be illegal because of buoyancy - although I've seen drugs become illegal and swimmers have still kept those world records and their titles," Talbot said.

He added that Klim and the world 400-metre champion, Ian Thorpe, had indicated they would wear the suits at the championships, but a spokes- man from Australian Swimming said that Thorpe was unlikely to try it out. Senior technical officials from Fina will be in Sydney for the eight-day meet at the new Sydney Olympic pool.

"I'm going to be in their ears about it," Talbot said of the new suits. The veteran Australian coach wants Fina to rule on whether the suits give swimmers extra buoyancy. "It should really be the responsibility of the manufacturers of the suit to clear it with Fina. To my knowledge, none of that has been done," he said. "I think it's appalling that we've got to the stage now when we've got to start questioning suit legality so close to a major meet."

The suits' makers, Speedo Australia, said yesterday that Talbot was wrong and that Fina had already cleared the style. A spokesman said: "Swimmers have already used neck to knee suits and what everyone seems to be getting into a song and dance about is that it's gone from the knee to the ankle and that doesn't seem worth the fuss."

But Talbot argued that the legality of the suit was expected to be discussed at a Fina technical meeting in the next six weeks, well after the Pan Pacifics.

The suits were unveiled at last month's European Championships in Istanbul, where Palmer wore one in the process of winning the 400m freestyle gold. Swimwear manufacturers say the "hydrodynamic suits" reduce drag in the water.

Klim, who won two individual gold medals and two relay golds at last year's world championships in Perth, has also worn the suit in competition. One Australian who will not risk wearing the suit is Susie O'Neill, who will try to break Mary T Meagher's 18-year-old 200m butterfly world record next week.

Scott Volkers, O'Neill's coach, said she had tested the new suits but hers did not fit properly. He also said O'Neill did not want to have the record questioned if she managed to go under the mark set by Meagher, who was known as "Madam Butterfly" in her prime.

"Susie has tested the suit and it was a bit big," Volkers said. "She's indicated to me that she'll wear her normal aqua blade suit."

O'Neill will retire after next year's Sydney Olympics and believes that the Pan Pacifics, Olympic trials and the Games are her only three chances of beating Meagher's mark.