When Ryan Lochte puts on his high-tech swimsuit, the only thing missing is the cape.

“I feel like an action hero,” the world record-holder said.

When Ryan Lochte puts on his high-tech swimsuit, the only thing missing is the cape.
“I feel like an action hero,” the world record-holder said.
But, amid an all-out assault on the record book and gushy talk of suits designed with the help of NASA, there’s a nasty undercurrent heading into the U.S. Olympic trials that begin Sunday.
On the eve of the meet, two rival companies held dueling media events to tout the benefits of their competing suits — a battle that’s moved beyond the pool and into federal court.
While the next step in TYR Sport’s antitrust lawsuit against Speedo was put off until after the Beijing Olympics, there’s still plenty of bitterness in a case that has as much to do with market share as it does with lap times.
TYR claims Speedo is in cahoots with USA Swimming, using its hefty financial clout to strong-arm American athletes into wearing its attire. The governing body also is a defendant in the case, along with national team head coach Mark Schubert and two-time Olympian Erik Vendt.
An uneasy demilitarized zone has been set up right through the middle of Omaha, the two companies staring each other down during a lull in their legal tussle.
California-based TYR is working out of a hotel and sports bar that overlook the Qwest Center from a hill a couple of blocks away. Speedo, a major sponsor of USA Swimming, has a prime spot right inside the arena.
“These young people have sacrificed so much to get to this point,” said Steve Furniss, a former Olympian and co-founder of TYR. “I would like to see the focus on them and the great things they’re going to do.”
But there’s no getting away from the swimsuit wars, which took center stage Saturday.
Speedo invited reporters to its elaborate display set up in the Aqua Zone, a fan exhibit area just beyond the warm-up pool. The star attraction was the much-ballyhooed LZR Racer, which was designed with NASA’s help and has been worn for 38 of the staggering 42 world records that have fallen since its unveiling in mid-February.
On hand to vouch for Speedo were Eddie Reese, the U.S. men’s coach, and Bob Bowman, who coaches the sport’s biggest star in Michael Phelps. Their support wasn’t too surprising, because both serve on an advisory panel for the swimsuit giant — a post that Bowman acknowledged earns him a paycheck from Speedo.
A few hours later, TYR made its pitch for the Tracer Rise, its answer to the LZR. While the company doesn’t have nearly the star power of Speedo, it did trot out some of its top athletes, including Mary Descenza, Matt Grevers and open water swimmer Mark Warkentin.
Across the street in a hotel meeting room, Furniss weighed in on a conference call from California, saying he was reluctant to go to court but felt he had no other choice because of what he perceives as a tilted playing field in the battle with Speedo.
“I’m a former swimmer,” said Furniss, who won a bronze medal at the 1972 Munich Olympics and was captain of the powerful 1976 team, generally recognized as the greatest men’s squad in U.S. history. “I love to compete. I just want to have the opportunity to compete. Let this thing be settled in the pool.”
Furniss was due to arrive in Omaha on Sunday, and he conceded that it might be a bit unsettling to face friends and colleagues who believe his company’s lawsuit has caused an unnecessary distraction in this Olympic year.
“It’s a small fraternity of people,” Furniss said. “I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t uncomfortable.”
TYR was eager to press ahead with its claims before the Olympics, but USA Swimming recently persuaded a U.S. District Court judge in Los Angeles to put off the case until Sept. 15 — some three weeks after the closing ceremonies in Beijing.
“What this effectively does is put it on the shelf,” said Chuck Wielgus, the executive director of USA Swimming. “We don’t have to worry about it until after Beijing. The athletes and coaches can get through the Olympic Games without any distractions.”
But TYR said one of its major claims was acknowledged in the request for a delay. Stu Isaac, a senior vice president for Speedo, filed court documents admitting that Schubert is a “paid spokesman” in addition to his duties as national team coach and general manager.
In April, Schubert said he would recommend that every American wear the Speedo suit at the U.S. Olympic trials — even if they were sponsored by another company. “Do you go for the money or for the gold?” he said at the time.