U.S.O.C. GIVES GREEN LIGHT TO BODYSUITS
Byline: Rosemary Feitelberg
NEW YORK — This time around, Olympic swimmers might be getting fully dressed before hitting the starting blocks.
During the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, gold medalist Tom Dolan made fashion headlines by wearing his Nike swimsuit several sizes too small — for speed, he said — but thanks to a ruling on Tuesday by the U.S. Olympic Committee, swimmers this year could be going for a head-to-toe look.
On Tuesday, the U.S.O.C. reversed a decision made last month by USA Swimming, the national governing body for American swimmers, that banned full-length swimsuits from Olympic trials. At that time, USA Swimming was concerned that full-length swimsuits would be available only to swimmers working with sponsors making the swimsuits, which are designed to minimize drag and turbulence in the water.
Tuesday’s reversal was prompted by a formal grievance filed with the U.S.O.C. by Tyr, a Huntington Beach, Calif.-based manufacturer that caters to swimmers and triathletes. Tyr approached the U.S.O.C. after an appeal to USA Swimming’s board of directors failed to produce any results.
Tyr noted that FINA, the international governing body for swimming, allows full-length swimsuits to be worn for competitions. In accordance with the Amateur Sports Act, federal legislation passed in 1978, a national governing body cannot impose stricter guidelines than an international governing body.
U.S. swimmers could already wear full-length swimsuits for Olympic qualifying meets and at the Sydney Games, but not at trials. Women should account for 60 percent of the swimmers at the trials, which will be held in Indianapolis Aug. 9-16.
Two years ago, Adidas was the first company to introduce a full-length swimsuit, and availability has never been an issue, an Adidas spokeswoman said Wednesday.
Chris Duplianty, Adidas America’s national sales manager for swim and a former Olympian, will continue to try to recruit swimmers to wear the product.
David Rosen, vice president of marketing for Tyr, said Wednesday that the company is pleased with the U.S.O.C. ruling but is concerned about USA Swimming’s decision-making.
“Clearly, USA Swimming’s original decision was based on a brand’s inability to make enough suits,” Rosen said. “In our view, that was an inappropriate way to make a decision that affects the careers of athletes and the sport itself.”
While Rosen would not identify the brand in question, other industry sources said that Speedo was not equipped to provide swimmers with its Fastskin.
A USA Swimming spokeswoman said that “was never the reason.”
“It wasn’t just one company,” she said. “Overall, we were concerned there were not enough suits to go around.”
When the initial decision was announced, Speedo was equipped to suit up American Olympic contenders — including those not working with Speedo, but not consumers — with its Fastskin swimwear, said Stu Isaacs, vice president of sales and marketing for Speedo. He said USA Swimming’s board of directors wanted to ensure that swimmers had enough time to be comfortable competing in the swimsuits.
Nike sponsors a handful of American female swimmers but does not plan to aggressively pursue others, said Martha Ivester, Nike’s global brand director.
“The U.S. considers swimwear to be a piece of equipment that is chosen by the individual athlete, so that really doesn’t change anything for us, strategy-wise,” she said.