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Masters Swimmers Hope Suit Issue Settled Soon

By Amy Shipley
It's still not known whether masters swimmers (local coach Jim Halstead is pictured) will be able to wear technical bodysuits in the coming months (photo courtesy of Frank Marcinskowski)

It's still not known whether masters swimmers (local coach Jim Halstead is pictured) will be able to wear technical bodysuits in the coming months. (Photo courtesy of Frank Marcinskowski)

There are two groups of people in the masters swimming community: Those who want technical long-length suits to remain in the sport, and those who don’t. But divided though they may be on that issue – and they are divided – they share considerable common ground.

They are confused about what is happening, or not happening, in masters swimming regarding swimsuits.

And they would like some answers.

The rest of the swimming world — high schoolers, collegians, elites — already has adopted new rules restricting suits. Masters swimmers, as they continue to swim in whatever suits they wish, continue to debate. And wonder. Should they stockpile the long suits that are now being offered at deep discounts before they disappear from warehouse shelves? Or should they try to unload the suits they already possess?

“No matter what side of the fence people are on, they want a decision to be made,” said Jeff Roddin, the registrar for Potomac Valley Masters. “It’s been dragging out so long; it’s all anybody talks about. One way or another, let’s find a decision.”

Answers, finally, might be coming. U.S. Masters Swimming officials expect to receive some guidance from the world swimming governing body (FINA) by the end of the weekend. FINA’s masters technical committee is expected to study the issue in the coming days, armed with a recommendation — but only a recommendation — from the USMS technical committee.  Because FINA did not request the advice, it’s unclear how much weight it will carry.

In its recommendation, USMS proposes a ban on non-textile suits that extend beyond the shoulder, neck and knees for men and women.

Unlike in the elite ban, men’s and women’s suits would be equal size. And, unlike in the elite ban, zippers and fasteners would be allowed.

”Our rules committee chaired by Kathy Casey has done a significant and comprehensive body of work,” USMS Executive Director Rob Butcher said. “We have looked globally at almost every aspect of this you can imagine.”

Whether FINA’s technical committee will support the proposal, or any ban at all, is anyone’s guess.

“I have no idea what those guys are going to do,” said Rob Dumouchel, who blogs about masters swimming at robaquatics.com. “And this is probably the first time anybody’s interested in what they decide. People want a clearly defined standard … People just need to know dates and rules.”

Even a proclamation by FINA this weekend or next week would not bring a certain end to the issue. Once FINA’s position is known, the USMS board of directors will decide whether to align its rulebook with what FINA proposes, or implement a variation more satisfying to the U.S. membership of about 50,000.

If the USMS decided to implement something even slightly different, athletes would then be unable to set world records in USMS events (FINA would not recognize them).

“My sense is they’re going to want to follow whatever FINA recommends right now,” said new USMS President Jeff Moxie. “We would be more interested in staying with what FINA suggests rather than going off and doing our own thing.”

FINA already spoke on this issue, letting USMS officials know in August that its planned Jan. 1 ban on technical bodysuits for elite swimmers did not apply to masters swimmers. At the time, however, it offered no guidance on what rules should apply, leaving USMS officials uncertain how to respond.

As the masters community wrangles with the issue, there are practical concerns. If masters rules are put in place that differs from the ban adopted at the elite, collegiate, age-group and high-school levels (all prohibit, or will prohibit, non-textile waist-to-knee suits for men and neck-to-knee suits for women), then where, exactly, will masters swimmers get the suits that meet their rules?

Will the masters community be considered a big enough audience to justify the production of a masters-only suit?

This much is clear: any new suit rule would go into effect Oct. 1 rather than June 1 of next year. At last weekend’s meeting of the USMS House of Delegates, members who supported an immediate ban edged those who wanted to ride out one more short-course yards season in bodysuits.

So the rules will change fast.

If they change at all.

“It’s complicated,” Butcher said, “on the full spectrum.”

One Response to “Masters Swimmers Hope Suit Issue Settled Soon”

  1. Joe says:

    I still stand on the side against technical suits. Swimming should be about ability, talent, and dedication, not about whom has disposable income.

    My entire yearly budget for swimming is less than a single technical suit, why should someone with merely more cash be able to defeat me in a race?

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