(AFP) – May 13, 2008
TOKYO (AFP) — A Japanese fabric maker says it has the secret to make the world's fastest-ever swimsuit as the country races against time to catch Speedo's high-tech, record-breaking LZR Racer suit.
Japan's Olympic swimmers, obliged to wear their own country's products, have been in uproar over the LZR Racer, going as far as to liken its use to doping because of the advantage it gives wearers.
Now Japan's Yamamoto Corp., which has supplied a super-fast synthetic rubber fabric to wetsuit makers around the world, has come to the rescue with the Olympic Games just three months away.
The company has offered material, called the Biorubber Swim-SCS Fabric, to challenge Britain's Speedo, saying it is the "the world's fastest swimwear material."
"The decision is not aimed at all at business. It's aimed at helping Japanese swimmers fight to their heart's content in fair conditions at the Beijing Olympics," said the company's president, Tomizo Yamamoto.
The rubber maker said it has sent samples to Japan's three main sporting attire makers -- Mizuno, Asics and Descente. The Japan Swimming Federation has given the three until May 30 to come up with an upgrade to counter Speedo.
The federation requires its swimmers, who include Olympic breaststroke champion Kosuke Kitajima, only to wear products by one of the three companies.
Yamamoto's fabric is coated with synthetic rubber that absorbs water molecules into its honeycomb surface, unlike most other materials which repel them. Its surface is smoothed out with water molecules to minimise frictional resistance.
Japan has set a goal of winning a total of five medals at the Olympics in August across all disciplines, including in the pool.
But Japanese swimmers have been alarmed by the LZR Racer since its debut in February, with the suit accounting for 18 of the 19 new world records since then.
"We want to erase fears among the swimmers. We have requested the three companies to match Speedo," said Kazuo Sano, the swimming federation's executive director.
Tomiaki Fukuda, chief of the Japanese delegation to the Beijing Games, lashed out at other sports leaders for limiting the choice to Japanese brands.
"Why can't we use the (Speedo) swimsuit when we know it's fast," Fukuda shouted at a recent meeting, according to media reports.
Yamamoto said its Biorubber fabric has already been used, primarily for triathlon events.
In October, swimwear by New Zealand brand Blue Seventy which used the fabric was approved by the international swimming federation FINA for its official meets, he said.
Other suit makers, including Xterra of the United States, Australia's 2XU, Aquaman of France and New Zealand's Orca have also adopted the material, Yamamoto said.
Five collegiate swimmers at Japan's Kansai University shaved their times by 1.0-2.0 seconds in 50 metres after switching to the Biorubber Swim fabric, he said.
The LZR Racer was developed with the help of the US space agency NASA. It uses a high-tech fabric of water-resistant polyurethane and is structured to squeeze the swimmer's body into the right posture.
FINA endorsed its use last month.
When Japanese Olympic swimmers tested the LRZ Racer last month, one of them improved his time for the first 15 metres by 0.7 seconds, said swimming federation official Norimasa Hirai.
"I can imagine that in general the (Speedo) product means a difference of 0.5 seconds over 100 metres and one second over 200 metres," Hirai said.
All three Japanese makers said they would consider the Yamamoto fabric.
"Yamamoto's is one of our options," said Mizuno spokesman Fumihiko Sawai. "We are definitely prepared to produce the best available."
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