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How I get into a 'body condom'
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To get the inside story on the controversial suits that are the stars of the World Swimming Championships, you have to get inside one.

You had better have plenty of time, however, because inching on this synthetic second skin for a swim in the world championship pool was a sweaty workout for this Reuters correspondent.

They do not call an all-polyurethane suit the "body condom" for nothing.

How I get into a 'body condom'

The suits, which look like they are made from black sandwich wrap, have helped swimmers to wipe out so many records that FINA, the sport's governing body, said this week they would be banned from January next year.

At the world championships, 35 world records had been set going into Saturday's penultimate day. Almost all have been achieved in the new suits.

You cannot set a world record without talent but the first thing needed with these special suits is patience just to put them on.

Preparing to do a 50m freestyle journalists' race in a full-length suit from Jaked, one of the meeting's favorite brands, made that clear. It also showed that the real trouble athletes face is when there is a suit problem, such as a tear, just before a race.

First, to get into the suit, a plastic bag goes over the foot to get it down a leg without snagging.

Then it takes five minutes to tug it up one leg, and the same for the other. Sweat slows everything down, so you need a towel to wipe off.

Jaked, an Italian company, recommends an upright, cross-leg stance to help work the fabric over the hips. Five more minutes for the torso and to get the arms through the shoulder straps, and then somebody else has to zip up the back.

Once on, the suit - even one described by the makers as a bit roomier than the ones top athletes use - was sausage-casing tight. The fabric could not be pinched at most spots and bulges were flattened, streamlining the body.

Unfortunately, over-vigorous stretching opened a seam in the seat of the suit before the race.

Critics contend the suits trap air, aiding buoyancy. Producers say they do not, but jumping into the pool brought a quick surge back to the surface.

The instant the starting gun for the time-trial race sounded, the real difference from old-style briefs was clear.

The starting dive became a lengthy glide, and slowing to race speed seemed to take two or three seconds longer than usual. The water slid over the streamlined body.

The final time was 28.7 seconds - nearly three seconds faster than I had put down as an estimate on my entry for the event. It was shockingly faster than forecast, the same pleasant surprise the world's greatest swimmers have had.

Getting out of my race gear took another 15 minutes, almost all of it to ease the wet legs of the suit over my heels. Four skinned knuckles and aching hands were the result.

This is a witness story by Reuters correspondent Ian Simpson.

(China Daily August 4, 2009)

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