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Speedo's LZR Racer creeps into college ranks

Speedo's LZR suit.

Speedo's LZR suit.

While international swim officials struggle to deal with the high-tech swimsuits made popular during the Olympics, Georgia Tech's men's swimming team is going to great lengths to make sure they are packed firmly inside them. With the ACC Men's Championships opening today, Tech swimmers want any advantage they can get, even if means sleeping three to a room in cheap hotels.

All the trouble has me wondering why not just pack into a traditional Speedo, save yourself the trouble and provide swimming fans like myself a little eye candy. The entire dilemma can be laid squarely on the $550 Speedo LZR Racer.

By saving on hotel rooms and buses, and sometimes sleeping three swimmers to a room, the Jackets carved room in their budget to afford a virtually essential piece of equipment -- the Speedo LZR Racer suit, made famous by Michael Phelps at the Beijing Olympics.

Bunking three to a room "wasn't bad, because most of us already spend so much time together," said Mauricio Sousa, school-record holder in the 50-yard freestyle. "At this stage right now, it is definitely that important."

The advantage of the LZR Racer and others like it is beyond debate. Of the 108 world records broken in 2008, 79 reportedly were set by swimmers in the LZR Racer.

"The way you can look at it is, the swimming world, with these new suits, we've gone through kind of a revolution," said Malul, ranked seventh in the world in the short-course 50-meter breaststroke. "If you don't have the suit, you're at a disadvantage."

The NCAA approved the LZR and other high-tech competitors in September, well after schools like Tech already set their budgets. The school felt that it had no choice other than to scrimp and save to equip its 23 swimmers for the ACC Championships. Total cost: About $9,000.

The Jackets are among the fortunate to have suits, as demand has outstripped supply. Even powerhouse Georgia's men's and women's teams were unable to secure enough LZR suits for the whole team for last week's SEC championships. The Bulldogs bought suits from multiple companies for the meet, where the women finished third and the men took fourth.

Emory, whose men's and women's teams have finished in the top four of the Division III championships every year since 2001, was the only team at its conference meet without the cutting-edge suits. Emory's swimmers, who still managed to win their conference meets, will have to pay for their own suits for their NCAA meet. Because of cost and limited availability, coach Jon Howell said "it has not been an equitable process."

Matt Hennie blogs on Atlanta's gay sports scene (and other stuff) at Project Q Atlanta.