Kitajima record set to empower Japanese swimmers

TOKYO Mon Jun 9, 2008 9:54am EDT

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TOKYO (Reuters) - A dazzling world record by Kosuke Kitajima could secure Japanese swimmers the right to choose what swimsuit they use at this year's Beijing Olympics.

The double Athens Olympic champion shattered the men's 200 meters breaststroke record at the weekend wearing one of Speedo's controversial new LZR bodysuits.

Japanese officials now appear ready to allow their athletes to ditch approved swimsuit makers Mizuno, Descente and Asics for Britain's Speedo at August's Beijing Games.

"We are thinking of giving the swimmers the freedom to choose," Japan Swimming Federation (JSF) executive director Kazuo Sano told Monday's local media.

"We have not had any big protest (from the three Japanese companies). We would like to do what's best for the swimmers in Beijing."

Kitajima stormed to a time of two minutes, 7.51 seconds in Tokyo on Sunday to slice almost a second off the previous record held by American rival Brendan Hansen.

"He had the potential to break the world record," Kitajima's coach Norimasa Hirai told reporters.

"But unless he wears the LZR it's not a level playing field. They must let him wear it in Beijing."

Mizuno previously had a licensing tie-up with Speedo but developed their own brand last year and ended their association, taking with them many top swimmers, including Kitajima.

MIXED EMOTIONS

"I would like to congratulate Kitajima, though it's a complicated feeling seeing him break the world record in a rival swimsuit," Mizuno's managing director Jotaro Ueji said.

"In the two months left before the Olympics, I hope we can strive to develop an improved product for the swimmers to wear in Beijing."

Kitajima won gold in the 100 and 200 meters at the Athens Olympics four years ago but has largely played second fiddle to rival Hansen since.

"It was a perfect swim and has given my confidence a real lift," Kitajima said. "If I don't win gold in Beijing I won't be coming back to Japan."

The 25-year-old had demanded Japanese swimmers be free to decide what to wear in Beijing before testing the LZR in Tokyo.

"It's a shame Japanese swimmers haven't been permitted to wear the Speedo suit," Kitajima told Reuters during the Olympic send-off competition in Tokyo.

"It is a terrific suit. You can see the results for yourselves."

World records have tumbled over the last few months, almost all by swimmers wearing the LZR suits, which Speedo says reduces drag, muscle oscillation and skin vibration.

(Editing by John O'Brien)

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