FINA, the international governing body of swimming, has banned performance-enhancing “non-textile” swimsuits as of January 1, 2010, but has tabled the determination of “what is a textile?” until later this Fall.

High-tech suits made of 50% polyurethane were first worn in world competition in 2008. A second generation of the suits, made of 100% polyurethane, appeared after the summer Olympics. The material is thought to compress muscle, add extra buoyancy and provide more forward propulsion. More than 130 short- and long-course world records have been broken since swimmers started sporting the super suits. In fact, only two of the current world records were set before their introduction. Record-breaking is likely to slow once the ban is in place. Accordingly, some in the swimming community support a proposal to place an asterisk next to the world records set in polyurethane suits to distinguish records set before and after the suits were prohibited.

FINA has some fine-tuning ahead. Its ruling says that only “allowable textiles” will be permitted, but that term has not been defined. In the art world, the definition of “textile” is quite expansive. Polyurethane would certainly be included if it was braided or plaited or woven or the like. According to WiseGEEK, “polyurethane is an incredibly resilient, flexible, and durable manufactured material that can take the place of paint, cotton, rubber, metal, and wood in thousands of applications across all fields.” Like tyvek®, mylar, fiber optic and stainless steel threads, it sounds like a promising material for artistic exploration — if not for athletic competition.

What Do You Think??

So, what should FINA consider when it takes up the question at its next bureau meeting this month or next? As opined: “Definition of textile is important, profile specification is important, having no zipper is important. Work to be done.”

Here’s your chance: Do you have any advice for FINA on crafting its definition of “allowable textiles”? Let us know.