No matter what happens this week at USA Swimming’s annual convention in Chicago, Potomac Valley Swimming intends to open the fall season with a ban on full-body, non-textile suits, officials say.
The PVS board of directors voted to put the new suit rules into effect Oct. 1, meaning that even if USA Swimming’s membership decides to hold off on the suit ban until Jan. 1, local swimmers will be prohibited from wearing high-tech suits at local meets.
The PVS contingent traveling to Chicago this week will urge USA Swimming’s voting members to follow through on a proposal to put the suit ban in place Oct. 1. The measure will be voted on at Saturday’s House of Delegates meeting.
The level of support for that proposal, once considered certain to pass, is difficult to gauge given the undercurrent of apprehension over whether the world swimming governing body (FINA) will follow through with its promised ban on Jan. 1.
Regardless, PVS, the local governing body for swimming in the Greater Washington region, is committed to its decision.
“If they decide to do it in January, we’re still going to do it in October,” said Greg York, the chair of the PVS Board of Directors. “We don’t want our kids to have to spend $500 on suits for three months.”
It’s unclear whether the PVS ban would be enforceable if USA Swimming decides to wait. Bruce Stratton, chair of USA Swimming’s Rules and Regulations Committee, declined to comment on the legality of the PVS ruling, saying in an e-mail that the issue would have to be discussed and, “generally speaking, we do not allow anyone to make modifications to our technical rules.”
In July, FINA said it would, on Jan. 1, ban all non-textile suits that extend past the navel and knees for men and past the shoulders, neck and knees for women. USA Swimming historically has abided by all of FINA’s technical decisions, but the organization’s leadership wants the ban in place earlier.
If USA Swimming’s membership prefers to wait on the ban, technical suits would be allowed at the Dec. 3-5 Short-Course National Championships and Dec. 10-12 Short-Course Junior National Championships in Federal Way, Wash. The qualifying periods for those events began Nov. 1, 2008, and extends through the meets’ entry deadlines, so local swimmers could be at a disadvantage in posting qualifying times if they haven’t already met the time standards.
Though local coaches seem almost unanimous in their disdain for technical suits, there are differing views on when to implement the ban. Some say USA Swimming – and PVS – should hold off on any prohibitions until FINA’s new rules have taken effect and an allowable suit list has been published.
Until a comprehensive list is released, some coaches say, there will be confusion and potentially disputes about which suits are legal.
“Until they come up with a list, it’s a little open-ended,” Rockville-Montgomery Swim Club Coach Dave Greene said. “What are you going to do – hold up a heat for 20 minutes while somebody inspects a suit?”
Others ask, “What if FINA delays its promised implementation?” Great Britain, Australia and others are pressing the FINA Bureau to revise the rules again in January to make men’s and women’s suits the same shape.
“Doing anything differently in anticipation of what FINA might do could totally backfire,” Rockville-Montgomery Coach Mark Eldridge said. “They’ve changed their minds so many times you basically don’t know what to believe at this point.”
Other coaches contend the suits have done so much damage to the sport’s young participants — competitively and financially— that they should be banned as soon as possible because it’s simply the right thing to do.
“The overwhelming majority wants to end it now,” Curl-Burke Swim Club Coach Rick Curl said, “to get back to taking the focus off performance-enhancing suits and back to the swimmers.”
Curl and others also say allowing kids to wear the high-tech suits even for three months would put pressure on families to purchase the suits, while creating essentially two seasons in one — the pre-ban meets, and the post-ban meets.
“Parents are going to do everything out there to help their kids be the best,” said Potomac Marlins Coach Bill Marlin, the age-group vice chair on the PVS board. “We’re trying to inform the general public and general members that [using the suits] isn’t right.”
PVS is far from the only governing body to take quick action in response to the looming international ban; the National Federation of State High School Associations and the National Collegiate Athletic Association enacted recent bans that barred the suits from competition.
“That’s just more ammo for [USA Swimming] to adopt it immediately,” Curl-Burke Coach Pete Morgan said.
The first meet affected by the PVS ban would be the Oct. 4 All-Freestyle Swim Meet at the Fairland Aquatics Center in Laurel. A week later a host of meets take place: the Pumpkin Invitational at the Claude Moore Recreation Center in Sterling; the UMD Red and Black Invitational at the University of Maryland; the Harvest Moon Invitational at the Herndon Community Center; the Halloween Mini-Invitational at the Cub Run Recreation Center in Chantilly; and the PEAK All-Freestyle Meet at the Prince George’s County Sports and Learning Complex.
“Who knows what’s going to happen?” said Machine Aquatics Coach Dan Jacobs, who was the senior coaches’ representative on the PVS board through this past summer. “I think it’s a good idea to just ban them Oct. 1. That makes the most sense. Let’s get back to basics, and let’s go.”