Tuesday, January 17, 2012

SUITS!

Those were the days!
The title of this post pretty much sums it up. With the decision to allow Speedo's FS3 "System" in NCAA competition this coming year, college swimming is right back in the same situation a majority of us were complaining about in 2009. So, like many coaches, I'm left scratching my head. How did we not see this coming? Why didn't we learn our lesson? And why do so few people seem to care this time around?


First of all, I will say that many saw this coming. When the swimming establishment rose up in 2009 to banish the new generation of bodysuits from the sport, it was a polarizing issue for swimming. On the one side, you had swimming "purists". These were the people who had the most power in the system before the dramatic change in the competitive landscape that year. They naturally wanted to remain in a position where they were the most powerful coaches/swimmers/journalists/swimsuit company/"coaches organization" leader in swimming. They fought tooth and nail to roll suit technology back, and they were successful. There was something decidedly unfair about it. The best analog I ever heard, from someone working at a non-Speedo suit company, was that it was as if you were playing chess against somebody, only after they started losing they decided that pawns could move like queens and that queens were useless. All sorts of reasons were trumped up for casting out the "suits": they cost too much, they are unfair, they are ruining the history of our sport. None of them were true and all are being ignored now.

Another group (that I consider myself a part of) saw something far more exciting. New people were winning, coaches were innovating under the new rules and thriving. The sport was ripe for change, interest was high, and meets were more exciting because the suits mitigated the effect of tired swimmers racing. There was also far more variability where there had been almost none. I swam in college from 2003-2006 and saw nary a non-speedo racing suit at the end of the year. In 2009, I saw blueseventy, rocket science, arena, jaked, all at smaller level US competitions.

In any case, we all know what happened. We went "back" to a suit rule that never existed, arbitrarily cutting women's suits off at the knees and men's from hips to knees. For a while, pretty much every manufacturer had the exact same suit. It took Speedo more than a year to recover from being completely outflanked by their smaller competiton, but in 2011 (alongside some crazy marketing), they released a suit that has reignited my worst fears on this particular issue. All of a sudden, their suit is the "must have" for the coming championship season. Supply issues will no doubt abound, and Speedo is already charging far more for the "system" than a good old poly body suit cost back in the day.

College coaches tried to avert this very situation back in 2009. In the spring of 2009, we (members of the College Swim Coaches Association of America) moved to recommend that the NCAA formally change it's rules to prevent new suits from coming onto the market mid season and be allowed in NCAA competition. This did not happen. There was still some hope and precedent- in 2008 LZRs had not been allowed at the NCAA Championships. However, there was no such ruling this time around.

I'm complaining as one of the "haves". It is likely that my team will have far fewer issues than many outfitting their squads for the end of the year. Do we really feel we're in a better place with this issue than in 2009? I don't think so, but so far the outcry has been muted.

15 comments:

  1. I can't agree more with this whole post. It's a bummer more people didn't realize this back in '09. Or even realize it now, for that matter.

    Did the rubber suit opponents expect companies to stop making faster suits, just because they're 'textile' now? Suits that are legal under these new rules'll eventually surpass the old rubber ones, that's just how technology works. Sucks we've had to go backwards to get there. (And all to make Speedo #1 again. Makes me feel dirty.)

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  2. Does your college provide them for conference championships, Chris? And if so, what do you think they will provide......

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  3. Yes they do. At this time we are purchasing "FS3" suits for our entire conference squad. We don't know whether we are actually getting all of them. We aren't purchasing the whole "system" for everyone but we will have enough for everyone to use. I feel like goggles/cap can be a little personal. In the past we have just purchased a pool of dome caps and shared them with no problem.

    To respond to Junker, I don't think opponents had much forethought about what was coming technology wise. I think the majority of people are fine with progression of technology as long as it doesn't disturb the hierarchy as much as 2009 did.

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    1. I suppose that's true, it was a bit drastic and therefore scary. The comments below about how the "wrong" type of swimmers were suddenly winning more I guess justifies that, if true.

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  4. i was hoping that the ncaa wouldnt allow them for this season. its a lot of money to spend for smaller programs with little or no scholarships money. thats unfair

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  5. The problem is simple....Do YOU as a college coach that is in danger of losing your job want to follow a request that other might not follow AND in turn quite possibly not swim as fast? Any coach would say NO! We must decide as a sport, are we about going faster and setting new standards? or are we about level playing fields?

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  6. Well call me old-fashioned, stuck in the past, a purist or crank, the suit ban for me was a good one.

    The excitement to me of new people winning events was not exciting, especially given what people were swimming in those suits. I am also including 2008, though many of the top competitors in finals had the same suits, the polyurethane suits changed swimming. It took away the focus on training specifically for aerobic/anaerobic endurance and technique into training to fit your suit. Strategies were changed because of what the suits did.

    I don't mean to sound like Craig Lord, but it is a sham to see someone like Biedermann go 1:42.00, closing that race in a unimaginable way and now in 2011 goes 1:44 mid? He was never capable of these times with that body suit. The same goes for the Americans who have not touched there pre LZR times.

    I really don't have an issue with new people winning events and shaking things up (the French backstrokers of 2011), but to me it is about a level playing field, pitting swimmer against swimmer. The suits threw that out the window. Most people ended up handicapping races and competitors, putting mental asterisks (and asking for physical ones) on these people.

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  7. The question is, do the latest suit "systems" provide a significant competitive advantage over the other suits? I'm skeptical that they do. The fact that they are pimping the goggles and cap/undercap as such a great innovation rings very gimmicky to me.

    We used the FINIS hydrospeed velos last year, and I thought they were comparable to all the others out there. We are using them again this year and they are practically giving them away.

    The "Suit Year" was absolute mayhem. The timing with the college season was crazy. Suits were rushed through to try to meet demand and bursting at the seems the first time they were put on, people were wearing lzrs under blue 70s, essentially competing in $1000 worth of suit, and there was a ton of speculation and rumor about what you "needed" to compete, and coaches had to nearly triple their existing suit budget on the fly. This brought a ton of potentially dangerous "wait a minute" attention from ADs, etc.

    I have a feeling that had the rules not changed the market would have settled itself. Supply would have met demand, coaches would have figured out what worked best for them, and all the competing manufacturers would have the pricing reasonable.

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  8. Furthermore, we have not approached the maximum efficiency and speed of human beings in the water (though we will never be that efficient or fast). Training regimens continue to change, trying to find optimal ways. Superior underwater dolphin kicking is changing changing the way long course swimming is done. Dry-land is never be more important as it is now. I would like to believe once we reach that point, we look at the next phase of swimming (if necessary): How fast can we go without suit (material) limits?

    If this new suit is within the rules, it can't be a whole lot different than what is out there. "The System" to me looks more like a marketing ploy than anything. Speedo has big market dollars, plain and simple. To say this suit or suit system is really any better than what TYR or Arena has to offer is ridiculous.

    My biggest concern with all of this is the effect it has on age group swimming (after all, I am an age group club coach). I cannot stand these suits. Parents spend ungodly amounts of money on these suit season after season with total disregard to what we as coaches (good ones anyway) are trying to preach to children. It is already a hard fight, but if Susie can swim faster with less effort at practice just by wearing a suit, why the hell should she have to work hard to achieve greatness? If she can work as hard as ever and this other girl or that other girl puts a suit on and swims fast, why shouldn't she. These suits are used weekend after weekend at the grassroots level and its sickening. Those who make these suits do not care about them, its about money and glory. We are the necessary $$ to keep the best swimmers in these suits.

    If we can keep the body coverage of the suits as they are, us grassroots coaches still have a fighting chance.

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    1. the fastest suit dilemma in age group swimming has been around since the introduction of nylon, its not going away, it is just how some people (most people) think ...welcome to america.

      Now we get a crappy suit for nearly the same cost as the full-body suits, there are less manufactures in the market and speedo makes out like villain in hero's clothing.

      It was so obvious where this was headed when the ban was being pushed that we all knew (with out doubt) that it would come back around, and in short time it has. Now what??? ban suits entirely? I know!...lets take it back to require only natural materials (cotton or wool), that ought to put the sports improvement in absolute reverse. Funny how they limit the size of the suit, yet the body suits are very close in keeping with the old suits used by the original modern olympic legends.

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  9. HA! Just spoke to my team dealer....NO SPEEDO FS3's are availble for purchase before March 1st.....oh yeah...no availibilty on small sizes of the LZR Elites! NICE!

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  10. we no longer call it a speedo, now we call them briefs.

    Bye bye speedo, good riddance.

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    1. ik mean to say... swim breifs

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  11. Welcome to America? That's the way it's been, just deal with it basically, is that what you are saying? I'm sorry, but that's crap. Do you put your age group swimmers in LZRs every meet?

    Spare me your chicken little, the end of the world is here if we don't embrace these suits and this technology nonsense. These athletes are approaching the records that were set in the speed suits and two of the LC records are gone. Don't tell me we have gone backwards, we haven't even scratched the surface yet. Most if not all of the elites are hell bent on showing the world it wasn't the suits and are on their way.

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    1. i seen ya around coacherik and i like ya. i am saying, ya got to deal with it. like ya got to deal with better pools constantly being built, better gear to train. deal with it, like changing stroke rules that account for majority of the improvements we have seen since the suit ban. like underwater dolphin streamlines and pull downs. like freestyle flip turns on backstroke. ya i mean deal with like high end energy supplements or $500 worth of video annalists every 6 months for your 8 year old. Some are gunna do it and you got to deal with it,and it is crap, but ya deal it, or someone else gets all the credit.

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