By Liz White, editor
Rome - After several months of uncertainty over what swimsuit materials and constructions are acceptable in competitive swimwear, international swimming federation Fina has made a firm decision.
While the press is full of reports that Fina will ban the newest polyurethane coated bodysuits, in a cryptic note on its website, the group announced only that, "A new rule concerning the shape and the material (only textile) of the swimsuits was approved."
This ruling, made 24 July at the Fina General Congress in Rome during the 13th Fina World Championships, is not expected to take effect before 2010, and no definition of "textile," nor a ruling on what amount of a swimmer's body the suit can cover, has been announced. Most commentators expect this news to spell the end to suits made of fabric completely coated with an impermeable layer of polyurethane, and also say that suits will no longer be allowed to cover the lower legs.
Various companies have produced full-length body suits since Fina first ruled last year that some suits, notably the Speedo LZR, using polyurethane and polychloroprene panels to control body shape, fell within its definition of acceptable textile constructions.
It is not yet clear whether any level of Spandex polyurethane fibre content in the suit material will be acceptable under Fina's future definition of textiles, and this could cause Fina headaches unless it gets it right. The swimming body will need good advice from materials and fabric technologists on the wording of its ruling, or there will be potential for a new non-stretch generation of suits. That's a bit like trying to imagine cyclists without Lycra.
The controversy over the PU-coated suits - one BBC radio commentator this morning said polyurethane has become a dirty word in swimming - is because the hard-to-get-into costumes streamline and control the body sufficiently to give what may be up to a half a second advantage in 100-metre events.
Whether it is a result of this body contouring, or of some air trapping by the impermeable suits, or a combination, buoyancy has been improved, and world records have been falling at every meeting since early 2008.
Fina will also have the tough job of deciding what to do with the slew of world records created by swimmers in the PU-constructions of swimwear companies such as Jaked, Arena, TYR, Adidas and more, when such suits are no longer allowed.
World records continued to fall at the Rome event. Italy's Federica Pellegrini, in a Jaked J01 suit, became the first woman to swim the 400 metres freestyle in under 4 minutes, beating England's Joanne Jackson, wearing a PU-coated Adidas Hydrofoil, into second place and her team-mate Rebecca Adlington, who won the gold medal in this event at the Beijing Olympics, into third. Adlington was wearing the Speedo LZR racer, which she also wore in Beijing.
Three more world records were set by swimmers wearing Arena's X-glide PU body suit, while Germany's Britta Steffen broke the 100-m freestyle world record in a Hydrofoil, during the first leg of the women's 4x100m relay.
PIC: BrittaSteffen in a Hydrofoil suit. This has an "ultra lightweight and paper-thinwoven fabric, which features a fully laminated PU foil to ensure thatthe athlete and suit stay drier, lighter and more slick in the water," Adidas says.