Michael Phelps will be at a “disadvantage” against athletes in the most advanced high-tech suits and might alter his program for the summer world championships because of FINA’s decision Monday not to restrict the suits, Phelps’s coach Bob Bowman said Tuesday.
Bowman said Phelps will continue to wear the Speedo LZR he wore in winning eight gold medals at the Beijing Summer Games but might bypass the 100-meter freestyle, an event he hoped to swim, because the dominant athletes in that event wear the most controversial new suits.
“Other people are just putting on a polyurethane suit and calling it progress,” Bowman said by phone from his office at the Meadowbrook Aquatic Club. “It’s a very tough situation for [Phelps] to be in … I don’t think he’ll lower his expectations of himself—he knows what he’s capable of—but the problem is he’s dealing with other people in other suits and the outcome of this meet is going to be in the balance.”
Phelps wears Speedo’s LZR, which was introduced early last year and ignited a technological arms race that has spawned dozens of new manufacturers producing faster and faster—and increasingly controversial—suits. The world governing body of swimming (FINA) decided to allow more than 300 suits from more than two dozen manufacturers into the July 25-Aug. 2 world championships in Rome, saying it did not have time to make definitive evaluations on which were performance-enhancing.
FINA, which banned only 10 suits, has said it would tighten up the swimsuit rules next year.
“We’re supposed to put the athletes first; this puts them absolutely last,” Bowman said. The new suits “brought the rest of the world closer to the top athletes … Other people get to skip steps by wearing the suits.”
Bowman, who is under contract with Speedo, said he has observed that the LZR Racer provides swimmers with about a 2 percent increase in performance while other new suits, such as the Jaked01, worn for at least three recent world records, produces an increase closer to 5 percent. The suits are designed to compress the muscles and, in some cases, add buoyancy.
“I feel the LZR is the fastest suit that reasonably represents what the sport is all about,” Bowman said. “Some of these other suits are far beyond … It just changes the whole mix. We don’t know what to expect. Clearly, no one should be under the false belief that [FINA] has secured a level playing field. I will guarantee it will not be a level playing field.”
Bowman said he and Phelps would decide on his planned world championship program this week, adding that he was extremely happy with Phelps’s performance in the 100 fly in Montreal Saturday. In that race, Phelps swam a personal best and nearly broke the world record while wearing a full LZR bodysuit.
In all previous 100 fly races, he wore just the pants.