New performance-boosting bodysuits have triggered a row at the French championships.
At the heart of the controversy is the Italian-manufactured Jaked suit being used by some competitors in Montpellier.
The suit is totally covered with polyurethane to aid buoyancy while the old suits only had polyurethane plates.
Representatives from Jaked were spotted selling their suit in the VIP stands here and then at the back of the pool after being asked to leave by organizers.
However Pierre Roger, hot favorite in the 200m backstroke, failed to qualify for this year's Rome World Championships when he finished fifth in the final after his Jaked suit cracked at the start.
Other manufacturers are trying to catch up with Jaked. Arena have just developed a similar outfit that helped Olympic champion Alain Bernard set a 100 freestyle world record of 46.94 seconds in Friday's semifinals.
The Frenchman was second in the final later in the day after reverting to his old suit, 0.36 of a second behind by Frederick Bousquet who wore a Jaked suit as he produced the third fastest swim of all-time (47.15).
While the Jaked suit has already been ratified by the Swimming International Federation (FINA), Arena's outfit has yet to be approved.
"The ratification request for the suit was sent to FINA before the March 31 deadline," said Arena France chief executive Nicolas Preault. "I am not worried."
Polyurethane, though, will not be allowed to cover more than 50 percent of any suit by Jan 1, according to FINA.
France head coach Lionel Horter, who trained Amaury Leveaux to the silver medal in the 50 freestyle final at the 2008 Beijing Games, said FINA had failed to set out clear rules.
"All our terms of reference are swept away," said Horter after his swimmer was fourth in the 100 final in Montpellier with an old Tyr suit, failing to earn a place in Rome.
Triple Olympic bronze medallist Hugues Duboscq, without a full bodysuit, was fourth in the 50 breaststroke final after pocketing 18 of the past 20 French titles.
"I am very disappointed," said his coach Christos Paparadopoulos. "We work every day hoping for a good performance and it is all ruined because we do not have the right suit."
Franck Esposito, who took bronze in the 200 butterfly at the 1992 Barcelona Games, said: "You see average swimmers with outstanding performances. It is becoming ridiculous".
Some competitors said the suit had nothing to do with their displays.
Spaniard Rafael Munoz, who broke the 50 butterfly world record wearing a Jaked suit earlier this month and set a 100 butterfly European record on Saturday, said: "My times don't depend on the suit because if you throw it into the water it doesn't move by itself.
"It also has less buoyancy than others. It repels the water and could give some advantage but my times can only be achieved with a lot of work."
Bousquet, who smashed his personal best by more than a second when he beat Bernard on Friday, said: "The suit does not swim. I do".
Horter, set to coach the French 4x100 freestyle relay team in Rome, said it was not up to the swimmers or coaches to set the rules.
"It is the job of the governing bodies," he said. "Consequently I will do everything I can so that our swimmers have the best equipment at the world championships."
(Agencies via China Daily April 27, 2009)