TOKYO, June 6 (Reuters) - Japan’s double Olympic champion Kosuke Kitajima protested over swimming’s raging bodysuit wars on Friday, demanding athletes be given the right to choose what swimwear they use at this year’s Beijing Games.
The 25-year-old peeled off his tracksuit top to reveal a T-shirt with the slogan “I am the swimmer” in a blunt message to Japanese swimming officials.
Kitajima, contracted to Japanese manufacturer Mizuno, underlined his point by setting a new national record of 59.44 seconds in the 100 metres breaststroke wearing Speedo’s controversial LZR bodysuit.
“It’s a shame Japanese swimmers haven’t been permitted to wear the Speedo suit,” Kitajima told Reuters at the Japan Open in Tokyo, a send-off competition for August’s Beijing Olympics.
“I’m happy to get the chance. It’s a terrific suit. You can see the results for yourselves.”
Four other swimmers also broke national records in LZR bodysuits at Tokyo’s Tatsumi swimming centre.
Faced with the threat of Japan’s swimmers switching to Britain’s Speedo en masse, Mizuno, Descente and Asics recently unveiled hastily designed new hi-tech suits.
Speedo used to have a licensing tie-up with Mizuno, one of three swimsuit makers approved by the Japan Swimming Federation, along with Descente and Asics.
But Mizuno developed their own brand last year and ended their association with Speedo, taking with them many top Japanese swimmers, including Kitajima.
World records have tumbled over the last few months, almost all by swimmers wearing the LZR Racer bodysuit, which Speedo says reduces drag, muscle oscillation and skin vibration.
Kitajima, who won gold medals in the 100 and 200 metres breaststroke at the 2004 Athens Olympics, wants a level playing field for the swimmers in Beijing.
“It shouldn’t be about the suits,” he complained. “The swimmers are the ones swimming. I want Mizuno to try harder. I want to wear a suit that helps me win Olympic gold.”
Mizuno unveiled a swordfish-inspired design in response to Speedo’s LZR suit, which Kitajima’s coach Norimasa Hirai likened to a “form of doping” such were its apparent advantages.
Japanese officials have yet to announce whether they will allow the country’s swimmers to break contract and wear Speedo suits in Beijing.
Editing by Padraic Halpin