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The great swimsuit debate

Sometimes I debate which I love more, my wetsuit or my bike.


My love for my bike is a long-term relationship. We've been together since 2005. We took a trip to Italy together. My bike was my entry into a new world of fitness which spurred my evolution into an athlete.

My wetsuit and I go back a year. But it is like my security blanket. I adore my wetsuit. As much as I detest getting into it and feeling a bit like a sausage and some restriction in my movement, my wetsuit and I are tight. The wetsuit helps me float. It's buoyant. If I do nothing, the wetsuit will keep me bobbing in the water.

Top-flight triathletes use wetsuits to gain an advantage on the swim. The wetsuit, because it's buoyant and helps keep you close to the surface of the water, helps you swim faster. It also decreases drag, which makes you swim faster.

In some circles people feel this is cheating.

Not all races are wetsuit legal. Athletes can wear a wetsuit if the water temperature is 78 degrees or colder. Between 79 and 84 degrees, age group athletes (meaning those who are not "elite" racers) can wear a wetsuit but will not be eligible for awards.

Then there is the personal preference debate about the type of wetsuit that's best -- full sleeved or sleeveless. Personally, I have the full sleeved wetsuit. I figured I need as much buoyancy as I can get. And while the wetsuit does allow me to swim faster, by no means am I shooting the water. The entire field usually wears wetsuits. Sometimes for the mental comfort (like myself), sometimes to keep up with the competition and be in the running for a podium spot and other times just because the water is too darn cold.

While triathletes will debate sleeve or no sleeve and occasionally discuss the merits of swimming with or without a wetsuit, generally the technology is standard and the majority of athletes I've run into merely accept the wetsuit as part of the requisite racing gear.

Welcome to one of the differences between open water and pool swimming.

Because just when you thought the great swimsuit debate had passed us by, it comes to light a month before the World Championships in Rome.

On Monday, FINA (the international governing body of swimming) approved over 100 modified swimsuits
for the upcoming championship.

If you'll recall last summer the Speedo LZR suit caused great controversy in the swimming world. The technology of the swimsuit is believed to have helped break 120 world records in the last 16 months prompting a great debate as to if technology is ruining the sport.

Are swimsuits, which help cut drag and help swimmers float, an unfair advantage? 

There is the issue of availability and expense, a kind of swimming arms race if you will, so that those with the money and access can buy better suits and, possibly then, better times.

But if every single swimmer had the same technology in his or her swimsuit, does that still somehow taint the times? Are world records becoming more and more meaningless?

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