There will be plenty of swimmers in Indianapolis at the U.S. national championships next week wrestling with the decision about what kind of swimsuit to wear. Michael Phelps won't be one of them.
FINA, the sport's governing body, ruled recently that swimmers can wear two new but controversial suits between now and Jan. 1 - they'll re-evaluate the decision after that. But Phelps said Wednesday that he's sticking with the LZR Racer he wore at the Beijing Olympics, where he won eight gold medals.
Two swimsuits, the Jaked 01 and Arena X-Glide, have sparked controversy. Athletes in Europe have broken several world records since the Olympics while wearing them, but in one case, France's Alain Bernard saw his world record in the 100-meter freestyle taken away after FINA ruled his Arena X-Glide suit did not meet its guidelines. During the past 18 months, more than 100 world records have fallen, mostly by swimmers wearing new, high-tech suits. FINA responded by saying it plans to re-examine suit standards for 2010.
"I think we might look back at this period and almost view it with an asterisk," said Bob Bowman, who coaches Phelps as well as Olympian and former world-record holder Katie Hoff of Towson at the North Baltimore Aquatic Club. "This little period is going to be kind of a free-for-all, and I'm not sure that's the best thing for the sport."
For now, however, the Jaked 01 and Arena X-Glide are legal, which has put a number of swimmers in the difficult position of choosing between wearing the suit made by the company that sponsors them - in many cases, Speedo - and wearing a suit that could give them the best chance to make the world championship team and win a medal.
Dara Torres said she expects to try different suits and make a "game-time decision" at the national championships as the 42-year-old tries to continue her improbable career.
The problem is that for many elite swimmers, their primary income comes from the suit manufacturer that sponsors them - and they might believe that company no longer makes the fastest suit.
"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 on a conference call Wednesday.
One of the few certainties for swimmers is that the high-tech suits will keep drawing plenty of attention at nationals and then at the world championships this summer.
"It does take away from some things," Phelps said. "A lot of swimmers are going to put up a lot of great times this summer, and a lot of it is going to be headlined by the suits. I just think it's not fair to other athletes."
Baltimore Sun reporter Kevin Van Valkenburg and the Associated Press contributed to this article.