Swimsuit controversy continues to dog FINA

LOS ANGELES: The latest wave of high-tech suits has swimmers gliding faster than ever through the water, even as ethical issues drag at the sport.

"It seems like we're years ahead of where we should be. I personally wouldn't mind going back to the old-school days. Then we can see who the fastest swimmers are," said Dara Torres, who won three silver medals at the Beijing Olympics last year.

But Torres, 42, admitted she hadn't yet decided what suit she would wear at the US championships that start next Tuesday in Indianapolis, which serve as the US World Championship trials.

Last week, world swimming's governing body FINA approved a list of suits which have caused controversy in recent months for the apparent performance advantage they give in the water.

Torres said she had tried various suits and expected to make a "game-time decision" on what she would wear at the US trials.

FINA said last week that approved suits would be available to all swimmers at the world championships, but Torres and USA Swimming national team head coach Mark Schubert said that didn't solve the dilemma facing competitors contractually bound to specific manufacturers.

"If you do wear what you think is the fastest suit and then you break a contract, it's a very, very delicate, tough situation," Torres said.

"If the company you're with doesn't have the fastest suit, you may not make the world championship team. But if you wear what you think is a faster suit, you're breaking a contract. At some point this all needs to be figured out." Schubert added: "Obviously athletes each have their own companies and have a desire to be successful. That puts them in difficult situations." Superstar Michel Phelps, who won an unprecedented eight gold medals at the Beijing Olympics, has said doesn't intend to switch suits.

"I've worn a Speedo suit my whole life and I plan to wear it the rest of my career," Phelps said at the Santa Clara Invitational last month.

Then again, Speedo's LZR Racer, worn by Phelps and designed with the help of NASA, helped launch the current crop of suits as it was linked to dozens of world records in the build up to the Beijing Games.

Now the part-polyeurethane Arena X-Glide and the all-polyeurethane Jaked 01 are the talk of the swimming world.

Polyeurethane, especially the all-polyeurethane suits, have come under particular fire because critics say the compression and buoyancy they provide can boost speed.

"It's going to be an interesting question if the swimsuit situation is rolled back how the world records are handled," Schubert said.

"I don't doubt some of the world records broken over the last few years are due to athletes - and some are due to the suits. I don't think we've been good stewards of the sport to allow what has happened."