"It's kind of hard to watch. I go online in the morning and I laugh. I actually find myself laughing. It's so out of control. We need to kind of start over again". - Janet Evans
A day beyond being released from her duties as a member of the FINA Athletes' Commission, swimming legend Janet Evans are equivalent to "technological doping" and are making a mockery of the sport. Holder of three of the most hard-wearing world records in history, over 400m, 800m and 1,500m, Evans called on FINA to get rid of supersuits asap.
"Basically, it's technical doping," she told AP. Like East Germany then, she was asked. "It's different but similar. I always believe the East German women were doing what they were trained to do. I'm not going to say it was the right thing, but they worked hard and did their best. They were just pawns of the state. You can't necessarily cut them out of the record book. That never made sense to me. I thought those women still needed a little credit."
Those words cut to the heart of FINA's misunderstanding. When officials attempt to explain the circus unfolding as being the result of the "huge amount of work that athletes are doing", they would be wise to recall that East Germans endured regular 100km to 120km workloads in water on top of gym work and cross-country skiing. That helped to make them very hard to beat indeed. But the reason they were able to do all of that, as we all now know, was Oral Turinabol and State Plan 14:25.
On the day that Rome witnessed a further seven world records, to take the monotonous tally to 29 - matching the all-time record of records set at the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal when vision was introduced to the sport in the form of goggles - in five days, Evans confirmed on the phone to AP from her home in the States that she had been watching events in Rome with a sinking feeling.
Evans, who lost her remaining world record, the 800m freestyle to LZR-clad Rebecca Adlington (GBR) in Beijing last year, said: "It's kind of hard to watch. I go online in the morning and I laugh. I actually find myself laughing. It's so out of control. We need to kind of start over again. But I don't think we need to take away from what the athletes have done now. They're out there racing and swimming and doing the best they can. It's similar to me and the East Germans."
Evans then took a knife to FINA: the international federation should put the swimmers' interests first and quit catering to swimsuit companies that are mainly concerned with improving their share of the marketplace. As a member of the FINA Athletes' Commission she had made many suggestions but so much of what she had to say "fell on deaf ears." Evans said: "The fact that Fina can do this is making a mockery of these times and these swimmers. It doesn't put the athletes first, and that's the most important thing at the end of the day."
"Swimming should be about an athlete's natural abilities and how they train, how they move in the water," she said. "I'm all for technological advances in swimming with faster pools and better lane lines. But I'm not for things that aid an athletes' abilities and make a mockery of the sport."
Evans dismissed claims by swimsuit companies that new rules being imposed by FINA will hurt those firms that pump so much money into the sport. Starting sometime in 2010, men will wear shorts and women will wear shoulder straps to a cut above the knee. No bodysuits. All textile, definition to be confirmed by September 2009.
"The swimsuit companies did OK before the LZR suits came around," Evans said. "They'll figure it out. They have been very successful companies. That doesn't hold a lot of weight with me."
Evans called on FINA to act swiftly and end the pain and confusion being felt by swimmers, coaches and programmes around the world. "We can all talk about it ad nauseam," Evans said. "But FINA needs to draw a line in the sand and listen to the athletes' voices, what they need and want. They're making a mockery of the sport. Changes need to be made."
Bob Bowman, coach to Michael Phelps, winner of eight Olympic gold medals in a LZR in Beijing, has joined the chorus of those calling on FINA to set all 2008 and 2009 world records, to be marked as "artificially aided". The issue was raised by head coach to the US, Mark Schubert, and Forbes Carlile, veteran Australian coach, on the eve of racing in Rome.
Last week, 168 nations voted in favour of a return to textile-only suits and a ban on the bodysuit, to be enforced from January 1, 2010. Men will wear briefs and women a suit from shoulder-straps to a cut above the knee, but the date for the new regime may be put back to "May at the latest", says FINA the international federation, to allow suit makers time to adapt.
They need no time to adapt. The main players either already have the suit of the future and past, while those who dopn't and have so far only many shiny suits, better start cutting quickly after they have the definition of textile handed to them on Sept 30.
The market won;t wait forever, contract or no contract. In the 4x200m Rome, the Chinese quartet broke its contractual obligation to Speedo, its new sponsor, and wore the Jaked01 non-textile suit that has been on the frontline of suits wars this year.
Just before the relay, Zhao Jing and Gao Chang had also worn Jaked01 suits to claim gold and bronze respectively in the 50m backstroke, either side of Daniela Samulski, of Germany. Zhao's 27.06sec victory established a world record that took 0.32sec off the standard set by Anastasia Zueva in the second semi-final a day before, and minutes after Samulski had clocked a global mark of 27.38 in the first semi final. More than a second, a relative ocean, has been taken off the world record since the last world championships were held in Melbourne two years ago. Gao then failed to show for her medal ceremony.
Shades of 1994 and the obfiscation of a time of shame.
Not a race goes by in Rome without the world media reporting the suit as at least an equal to the athlete. It is unavoidable when the rate of record-breaking is so frenetic and the margins of gain on the clock often so large as to be comical.
January 1, 2010.Come on FINA, you can do it. And so can the suit makers.