- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 16, 2009

SANTA CLARA, Calif. | Michael Phelps, Dara Torres and everyone else competing at next month’s U.S. nationals won’t be alone in the ready room before their races.

Joining them in the typically small and tense area where swimmers wait before going on deck will be inspectors making sure athletes are wearing approved suits. Those who aren’t will be told to change or be disqualified.

Suit inspectors are just part of USA Swimming’s new plans to implement FINA’s rules on approved suits at its sanctioned events, beginning with nationals July 7-11 in Indianapolis.

“Our goal is for it to not affect the athlete,” said Mike Unger, assistant executive director of USA Swimming. “We want them to focus on their races. We’re going to ask for patience.”

Swimmers usually have to be in the ready room 10 minutes before their race, but that will be expanded to 15 minutes in Indianapolis, and they must be wearing the suit they intend to race in.

Only allowed suits that are available to all swimmers may be used at nationals, which also serves as the selection trials for the world championships in Rome later in July.

So a superstar like Phelps, who won a record eight gold medals at the Beijing Olympics, will be subject to a suit check the same as Dagny Knutson, a 17-year-old budding star from Minot, N.D.

Inspectors will check athletes of their same gender. Three people will be in charge of the ready room - a member of FINA’s technical committee, a high-ranking USA Swimming meet official, and Jan-Anders Manson of Switzerland, who led the testing on suits for FINA.

Phelps’ coach, Bob Bowman, said he doesn’t anticipate the inspections being a problem.

“They’re not going to have to examine them that closely,” he said during last weekend’s Santa Clara International Grand Prix meet.

Phelps typically wears a handful of suits during a meet, changing styles depending on which events he’s competing in.

“I’m always confident I’m wearing the best suit,” he said. “I don’t even think about it. I know what I’m wearing and what I have to do.”

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