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High-tech Swimsuits Result in World Records, Antitrust Lawsuit

High-tech swimsuits have resulted in hundreds of new world records and one old-fashioned antitrust lawsuit.

Photo of Michael Phelps in a Speedo LZR Racer suitPhoto of Michael Phelps in a Speedo LZR Racer suit

The March 2010 trial pitting swimwear manufacturer TYR Sport against its rival, Speedo, and USA Swimming will go on as scheduled after U.S. District Judge James Selna refused to dismiss TYR's antitrust lawsuit. Selna said nine of the 10 claims made by TYR were strong enough to be heard in court. Also named in the suit is U.S. head coach Mark Schubert and Olympic swimmer Erik Vendt, who switched his allegiance from TYR to Speedo.

TYR claims the exclusive endorsement relationship between USA Swimming and Speedo, along with Schubert's dual role as Olympic coach and paid Speedo endorser, is an unlawful restraint of trade. According to the lawsuit, USA Swimming and Schubert attempted to persuade Olympic-caliber swimmers to switch to Speedo's LZR Racer suit even if they had sponsorship deals with other companies. TYR, which made the first polyurethane-fabric splash with the January 2008 debut of its Tracer Rise suit, also claims that Schubert made untrue and disparaging statements about products manufactured by TYR, as well as those of other Speedo competitors. TYR's one dismissed allegation, trade libel, could be amended and refiled; Selna ruled that TYR has so far failed to show Speedo caused "special damages" with its promotion of the LZR suit, which debuted in February 2008.

More than 120 swimming world records have been set since early 2008, and more than 90 percent of the swimming gold medals at the Beijing Olympics last summer were won by athletes wearing the LZR Racer. John Leonard, executive director of the American Swimming Coaches Association, told The Washington Post that the new high-tech suits "have completely disrupted the fabric of the sport," leading FINA, the world governing body of swimming, to announce a crackdown last month that initially banned 10 suits and sent 136 others back to manufacturers for modifications. However, on June 22, the organization reversed course, giving the thumbs-up to more than 300 suits, including more than a dozen versions of TYR suits that it had initially rejected.

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