A top USA Swimming official said Friday he hopes a lawsuit accusing the governing body of being in cahoots with Speedo will be resolved quickly so athletes can focus on the Beijing Olympics.
Chuck Wielgus, executive director of the national governing body, also disputed claims by California-based TYR Sport that USA Swimming and its head coach, Mark Schubert, were trying to persuade American swimmers to switch to Speedo's revolutionary "LZR Racer" suit even if they have sponsorship deals with other companies.
"While we cannot comment on pending litigation, it is important to note that USA Swimming does not dictate which brand of personal competitive gear our national team athletes wear," Wielgus said in a statement. "Rather, U.S. athletes are free to wear their preferred brand of suit, cap and goggles."
With the Olympic trials in Omaha, Neb., less than two months away, TYR filed a federal antitrust lawsuit this week against Speedo's parent company, USA Swimming and Schubert.
"We hope that this matter can be resolved quickly so that all athletes currently preparing for the U.S. Olympic team trials can be free from this unfortunate distraction," Wielgus said.
TYR's case focuses on Speedo's financial relationship with USA Swimming and its top coach, calling Schubert a "paid spokesman" for the company.
The lawsuit cites numerous examples of Schubert touting the benefits of wearing the LZR Racer, including his endorsement last month during the short course world championships, where numerous world records were set, mostly by Speedo swimmers.
Since the LZR Racer's unveiling in mid-February, swimmers wearing the suit have set a staggering 37 world records and rekindled the debate over whether technology has too much influence over the sport. World governing body FINA has repeatedly upheld the legality of Speedo's design and will hold a special meeting next month to rule on the legality of new suits designed by rival companies in response to the LZR.
Larry Hilton, an attorney for TYR, said that while the "timing of the lawsuit is unfortunate," the company had no choice after settlement talks with USA Swimming broke down.
"If this had happened a year ago and we had waited until a month or two before the Olympic trials to file suit, that might have raised some eyebrows," Hilton said. "Unfortunately, all the actions happened very recently. ... If we had waited until October [after the Olympics] to bring the lawsuit, the bell already would have been rung. You can't un-ring it."
Schubert urged all U.S. athletes to wear the suit during the country's Olympic trials this summer, regardless of their sponsorship deals. TYR has sponsorship deals with several top Americans, and world record holders Brendan Hansen and Aaron Peirsol are tied to Nike.
Despite a report that Hansen and Peirsol might be contemplating a switch to Speedo, Nike spokesman Dean Stoyer said all the company's swimmers should be on board for Beijing.
"Nothing has changed on Nike's end, nor has anything changed with our athletes," Stoyer said.
Olympic swimmer Erik Vendt, who recently switched from TYR to Speedo, also is named as a defendant. The lawsuit alleges he broke a binding contract with TYR when he changed attire. Vendt's agent, Evan Morgenstein, vehemently denied the charges and said he would boycott future deals with TYR.
Speedo also denied any wrongdoing.