A grand total of 108 new world swim records were set this year. There's little disagreement in the swimming community that these new records were set (to a large extent) with the aid of new swimsuit technology.
Specifically both Speedo and Blueseventy have introduced new swim suits to the world stage that are dramatically more hydrodynamic, more slippery, and offer much more flotation. The outcome---swimming world records are falling like snow flakes in Alaska.
This was apparent to anyone who watched Michael Phelps and the Olympics this summer. But now many of the word's swim coaches are now crying foul.
They believe that the new swimsuit technology offers an unfair advantage to most swimmers, and they worry that it is too expensive for many young developing swimmers.
They also worry that the new technology is being used in an unfair (and perhaps illegal) manner by some swimmers.
In a recent story published in the Sydney Morning Herald, "Olympic legend Grant Hackett said he had been stunned to see swimmers wearing more than one suit. "You can't blame the manufacturers as they are working within the guidelines," he said.
Hackett, one of the greatest distance swimmers of all time, backed the call for tighter regulations, saying there should be a ban on newly designed suits 12 months before a major event such as the Olympics.
He was also concerned that the suits, which cost about $400, could drive young swimmers away as they lasted for only a short time. FINA has said it would "take appropriate action" when its decision-making bureau meets in Dubai in March."
So what's FINA doing about this brewing controversy?
"Lausanne (SUI), December 22, 2008 – As previously announced, FINA is in the process of reviewing the procedures for swimwear approval, namely in the areas of the swimsuits’ material, thickness, use, shape and availability. For that, FINA has scheduled a meeting in Lausanne on February 20, 2009 inviting the swimwear manufacturers and the representatives of the FINA Technical Swimming Committee as well as FINA Athletes, Coaches and Legal Commissions.
On this occasion, an objective analysis of the issues which have recently been raised will be made and eventual solutions for the future will be studied.
To support the development and possible implementation of these solutions, FINA will rely on independent experts of high reputation.
After the outcome of the above mentioned meeting and if any scientific reports are available, FINA will then bring these conclusions to its Bureau meeting, to be held from March 12-14, 2009 in Dubai (UAE), in order to take appropriate action on this matter.
FINA underlines that the issue of swimwear approval is a complex one and needs to be considered in a careful manner. That is why FINA is looking for the collaboration of all the partners in this area, so that final decisions can be globally accepted and fully understandable by the Swimming worldwide community."
We can't blame the swimsuit manufacturers. They are just doing what any company would do---trying to improve their core products to the benefit of their customers.
But while FINA studies the problem, old swim records will continue to tumble. And if in the end FINA finds that in 2008, the 108 new world records were set illegally what then? Would they strip swimming most famous poster boy (Michael Phelps) of his 2008 record accomplishments.
Perhaps like we suggested at the beginning of this editorial, "It was the best of times for swimming and now.....?"