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Three years of intensive research. A fabric developed in Nasa laboratories. 48 world records broken. Speedo's new Lazer swimsuit has caused enormous waves in pro swimming world.

That's all very well. But what happens if you wear it down at your local Beijing pool?

The initial response in the men's changing rooms in Xiao Xi Tian is one of muted disgust.

It's not so much the suit - that's still in my bag - as the fact that I am woefully unaware of Chinese swimming pool protocol.

Tom mingles in with the locals

As far as I can see, there are no separate cubicles to get changed in. So does that mean I get undressed in full view of everyone else? We're all boys together, yes?

No.

Not unless Chinese men regularly break off from combing their hair and tying their shoelaces to stare red-faced at the ceiling or turn to face the nearest wall with a low growl.

The suit itself is like a second skin. It's like trying to force my body into a snake's sleeping-bag.

With one foot stuck in the gusset and everything else in the shop window, I overbalance and hop across the changing-room floor, apologising profusely in a language no-one else can understand.

Summoning up the last of my dignity, I pull on the shoulder straps, mutter "Xiexie" at the assembled throng and walk out through the nearest door - straight into the toilets.

The scene out by the pool is charming. Old ladies are slowly cruising through the water, using the time-honoured 'polishing tables' breast-stroke technique favoured by casual swimmers the world over. Children are splashing about enthusiastically with floats and flippers.

As I slide into the cloudy chlorine, two of the children see me coming and scull away frantically. One of the old women stares in horror and swims into the woman in front of her.

I attempt to strike up a conversation with a rotund man perched on the edge of the pool. He points at my spray-on suit, slaps the large belly flopping over his trunks and shakes his head emphatically.

"Honestly - you'd be surprised," I tell him. "It's like wearing a corset."

He says something back and holds out his forearms, gesturing for me to give them a feel.

Tom compares outfits with his new friend

"Goodness," I say, squeezing one warily. "So strong."

He smiles and nods, flops into the pool and thrashes his way up to the other end.

I duck under a lane rope and surface close to a gaggle of chatting ladies. They scatter as rapidly as if I had a dorsal fin.

As I push off the side and start front-crawling down the lane, three of the women press themselves against the side of the pool. The other two are already hauling themselves out of the water.

I haven't repelled women this effectively since an accident at work involving a large pot of yoghurt left me walking round with an unpleasant stain down the front of my shorts.

After a few brisk lengths (summary: it's like wearing the world's thinnest wetsuit) I borrow an interpreter to gather a selection of opinions. In no particular order, here are some of their thoughts:

"I would never wear one. It makes you look like a woman."

"Are you a professional?"

"I can't see a Chinese man wearing that."

"Isn't it a woman's costume?"

"I've never seen anything like that before."

"No. Men should swim in shorts, like mine."

Michael Phelps, who'll be aiming for eight gold medals at these Olympics, says of the Lazer: "When I hit the water, I feel like a rocket."

Tom Fordyce, who'll be aiming to wear board-shorts next time, says: "When I left the water, I felt like the entire place was laughing at me."

Tom Fordyce is a BBC Sport journalist covering a wide range of events in Beijing. Our FAQs should answer any questions you have.


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  • 1. At 3:00pm on 06 Aug 2008, Ryushinku wrote:

    NOT cloudy chlorine! Perfectly fine, sparkling, crystal-clear chlorine I think you'll find!

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  • 2. At 3:13pm on 06 Aug 2008, ScottyDooDoo wrote:

    Very funny!

    Tom - did you notice a performance difference between the Lazer and the now near redundant brief?!?

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  • 3. At 3:17pm on 06 Aug 2008, Keith Thomas wrote:

    It is shame that the pictures don't show for me. Has this page been tested on OS X 10.5.4 running Safari 3.1.2?

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  • 4. At 3:27pm on 06 Aug 2008, Tony Doyle wrote:

    Keefie... the images aren't appearing for Win XP users either running IE7... don't get all apple-dramatic on us...

    Tom, as a keen triathlete did you time your performance with / out the Lazer?

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  • 5. At 3:52pm on 06 Aug 2008, Alex Trickett - wrote:

    Sorry guys and gals. We were having problems with the pics. We have managed to get one live now. Quite frightening...

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  • 6. At 3:54pm on 06 Aug 2008, NorthwichDan wrote:

    Tom, you're a genius. Having run through smog and swam in a public pool in a Lazer, I'm looking forward to you trying out Richard Fauld's latest shotgun on the Olympic Green - I'll give you a nanosecond before armed security takes you down!

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  • 7. At 4:28pm on 06 Aug 2008, MeanRedSpider wrote:

    So what is the correct changing protocol? Having tried swimming in a pool in Guangzhou (the other end of China), the attendant (hopeful of a big tip)(behave) tried to towel me down as I was getting back dressed and even wanted to help me on with my underpants (I tried to explain that I'd been able to dress myself for about 35 years). I loved being in China - nothing was quite what you expected. The sign at the pool was interesting too "Please do not use the pool if you have a veneral disease" That's reassuring.

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  • 8. At 4:38pm on 06 Aug 2008, secondSi wrote:

    MeanRedSpider - thats almost as disturbing as the bar I was in in Thailand (not one of those bars - I swear) where the gents were full of men wanting to massage you whislt you were 'going'. Off-putting to say the least.

    Great article Tom but, as previously mentioned, you left out the most important bit - what is the correct protocol?

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  • 9. At 4:45pm on 06 Aug 2008, Tom Fordyce wrote:

    ScottyDooDoo, Snaggers - in terms of speed in the pool, the Lazer beats the 1970s skimpy Speedo hands down. In terms of total time per session - including the time it takes to put it on - it's the skimpies every time.

    Re the protocol - I'm going to have to go to another pool and find out, aren't I? How many pools constitute a scientific study? I'll have a word too with Phelps and see what's the form down at the Water Cube.

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  • 10. At 4:54pm on 06 Aug 2008, 355gts wrote:

    That swim hat makes you look like colin from Colin and Justin!

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  • 11. At 5:07pm on 06 Aug 2008, phillmidwinter wrote:

    Hehe, I can tell you from the days when I was swimming seriously, that even if you went into a public pool wearing the previous 'shark skin' speedo suit (or just the bottom half as I wore when training) in the UK then people still look at you as if you're insane.

    It's remarkably difficult for guys especially to subvert trends for being half naked. Very odd.

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  • 12. At 5:23pm on 06 Aug 2008, Bob Long wrote:

    There's no difference between using this new suit and taking drugs, or using a motorbike in the marathon.

    It's bizarre how, when a bunch of cheats turn up using special equipment like swimsuits or bicycles reporters rush around to "ohh" and "ahh" over it, yet get all worked up when someone takes a cold remedy.

    If someone shows up at the pool in a lazer they should be sent home, end of story. Designed for cheating, used by cheats.

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  • 13. At 5:39pm on 06 Aug 2008, F5 F5 F5 wrote:

    If wearing this kit is cheating, then, surely so is wearing speedo skimpies or even wearing footwear to run the Marathon.

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  • 14. At 5:41pm on 06 Aug 2008, Fife_Lad wrote:

    I'm a hard man to please, Tom, but that had me roaring like a bull. Well done, sir! I salute the lengths you go to, literally, to keep us informed of the burning issues.

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  • 15. At 5:45pm on 06 Aug 2008, David2410 wrote:

    twworthington is being a little harsh.
    I was in the British Modern Pentathlon team in 1960, when the Russian team adopted the use of "orthoptic" 'sights' for the pistol shooting event. This was an adjustable 'iris' attached to the lens of a pair of clear glass spectacles. What this did was to bring the backsight, foresight AND the target into perfect focus.
    Further, they also adopted a very uncomfortable posture, where they rested back on the rear leg and shot with the front leg way out in front such that their heads were no more than 30 inches from the ground. As the forearm had to be aligned at an angle of 45 degrees with the body, this gave them at lease 0.75 seconds to move their pistol hand from rest to firing position.
    Cheating? NO! ... totally within the rules.
    Sour grapes? DEFINITELY!!!
    I used BOTH the following year!

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  • 16. At 5:47pm on 06 Aug 2008, MeanRedSpider wrote:

    I visited a water park whilst I was there too and experienced some of the same reaction - to some extent inevitable when you're the big "pink" bloke (AKA "white devil") amongst a few thousand Chinese folk.

    as I went down the 100-foot almost vertical chute and noticed a few recently-added safety features, it did cross my mind that I was probably at one extreme of the "bell curve" distribution...

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  • 17. At 5:56pm on 06 Aug 2008, NELDA BRIDGEMAN wrote:

    so what does the suit look like...one is in a full lenght suite..the other seems to have a normal short pants....so..IF ITS A SKIN..WHERE IS IT?

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  • 18. At 6:11pm on 06 Aug 2008, saxoneagle wrote:

    Wow, what an amazing waste of licence payers money. Yet another sterling display from a BBC lag.

    Do the BBC only employ free-loaders as journalists nowadays?

    You could actually use your journalistic "skills" to give us an insight into the Chinese way of life instead of showing your amazing "wit" to patronise them.

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  • 19. At 6:27pm on 06 Aug 2008, Steve Scott wrote:

    saxoneagle : Oh yes, god forbid that the BBC DARE to offer us interesting articles to read!

    I find this blog very entertaining, and that's exactly how it should be. Keep up the good work, Tom!

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  • 20. At 6:38pm on 06 Aug 2008, ThumperWabbit wrote:

    Oh for heaven's sake, saxoneagle, get a life!

    Tom's writing is entertaining, informative, and paints a great picture of the cultural quirks and differences that make international things like the Olympics and Eurovision Song Contest endlessly funny and unpredictable.

    I'm happy to spend my license fee for that kind of entertainment.

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  • 21. At 6:45pm on 06 Aug 2008, pippsey wrote:

    after the two british students protest in china today we hear that it could be the first of many,and the hint that a few of british team may have a little protest.
    what i would like to know if a member of the brtish team has shown over the past few year's or month's there disgust,protest,or something along those line's before they went to china,and if so why did they go !!.
    if it was so much in there mind they feel it right to protest,why are they there,that would be the ultimate protest,and they would have got the british people's respect.
    we keep hearing from sport's men,and women to keep polatic's out of sport,so let's respect the chinese people and allow them to run there games as they so wish without protest.
    i will not be watching these games as you can't trust results as there are too many drug cheats in the sport,and we only find out years down the line.
    if atheletes want to gain our respect get your own sport in order then you will be looked upoun with respect.

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  • 22. At 7:00pm on 06 Aug 2008, AcquaMinerale wrote:

    Excellent article Tom, I was laughing all the way! It's really interesting to just dive in with the locals...

    As for local etiquette, I actually always thought the Chinese are a little unphased at public changing places. I guess when there are so many people, you don't expect privacy as much... As long as you don't stare...

    I look forward to your next blog!

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  • 23. At 7:18pm on 06 Aug 2008, saxoneagle wrote:

    How the hell is that entertaining?

    Entertaining would be the "rotund" man force feeding this fool with fugu.

    This is no better than the drunken boys holiday that was wrapped as the the "Rugby World Cup blog."

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  • 24. At 8:09pm on 06 Aug 2008, bob_edinburgh wrote:

    Great. This is twice as entertaining now that saxoneagle (good manly name by the way, well done) has got going .....

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  • 25. At 8:38pm on 06 Aug 2008, the_eye_collector wrote:

    The best thing about the LZR is that it makes anyone look fit. And I mean FIT. I'm surprised Tom didn't have those female pensioners fawning over him.

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  • 26. At 8:45pm on 06 Aug 2008, Crowdercref wrote:

    For the benefit of Keefie, this web page works fine on my Intel iMac running OS 10.5.4 and Safari 3.1.2

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  • 27. At 8:56pm on 06 Aug 2008, srevans29 wrote:

    I also object to this waste of money. I'm surprised his partner in crime Mr Dirs has is not in Beijing.

    These chaps get to most large sporting events and write these type of columns. Freeloading is the word we commonly use for this type of work, or dossing. I thought the Olympics was related to sport in some way.

    This kind of rubbish must be costing the BBC hundreds of thousands of pounds in salaries and expenses.

    I'd prefer they give the money to charity.

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  • 28. At 9:08pm on 06 Aug 2008, hugecans wrote:

    Great stuff, Tom; had hoped you'd be there with Benders, though he's over getting the rasberry from Dominic in London on the Test matches (saxoneagle's alter ego? BTW didn't know you could get fugu in China, though I s'pose you can get Japanese food anywhere these days). Is the big man joining you?
    Don't know about swimming pools, but last time I was in rural China (1987) the etiquette in the communal khazi was that it was bad form to rub knees with the chap next to you while squatting over the drop; having run out of paper I inadvertently used my map of the local area, and that was definitely not good manners, either.

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  • 29. At 9:24pm on 06 Aug 2008, squirel1975 wrote:

    A well written and amusing article. Nice to see the Olympics allowing an amateur athlete to shine Tom! Anyone who is not amused fair enough, just don't read it and run along to BBC 4 or Radio 4.

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  • 30. At 11:34pm on 06 Aug 2008, AdrianJPhillips wrote:

    Michael Phelps has, as Tom Fordyce mentions, qualified for eight swimming events at the Olympics. An authority on swimwear, then.
    Fordyce fails to mention that Phelps has a lucrative endorsement deal with Speedo (with a $1m bonus if he wins seven or more gold medals at Beijing).
    http://promomagazine.com/othertactics/marketing_speedo_strikes_endorsement
    BBC journalism should be untainted by product placement or advertorial. Fordyce could easily have mentioned Phelps’ sponsorship in passing whilst maintaining the entertaining tone of the article. Why didn’t he?

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  • 31. At 11:55pm on 06 Aug 2008, Dougie wrote:

    Thank you. That brightened my day.

    As an amateur cycling time trialist the name of my game is to shave legs and wear a skin suit.

    I can't see any problem with you wearing the pro stuff if you want to look the part of a swimmer.

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  • 32. At 02:51am on 07 Aug 2008, Ian-in-Bangkok wrote:

    Absolutely superb Tom.

    A Michelin Man Star awarded for your article.



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  • 33. At 06:39am on 07 Aug 2008, muttlee wrote:

    Yes but where is the point of this article? I thought you were supposed to be trying the suit out to tell us what it was like to swim in it...was there any difference to normal swimming?did you glide through the water?

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  • 34. At 4:27pm on 07 Aug 2008, drafter69 wrote:

    The suit is kind of sad. When the swimmer wins do we applaud him (or her) or do we award the medal to the suit? Using drugs or using some new gimmick are not much different.

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  • 35. At 6:56pm on 07 Aug 2008, 18phoenix7 wrote:

    As an amateur swimmer myself i am immensly jealous that you managed to even wear the suit let alone swim in it. I think that this suit is the best thing since sliced bread - until they design a new one that is. however i do admire you for wearing said LZR RCR to a local swimming pool, i have a FS II and i wouldn't dream of wearing it training or to a local pool for fear of being ridiculed - i only wear it for galas. To other people's comments about this suit being a method of cheating i couldnt disagree more - if you were a competitive swimmer then you would understand how important a good swim suit is and what a feat of engineering and research the LZR RCR is - hands together for Speedo and NASA guys!
    note to Tom: your jumping around the changing rooms is a familiar sight to all competitve swimmers who know what it is like to put on a swimsuit that is supposed to fit like a skin and is about 4 sizes too small - just out of interest what size was it?
    Well done to you for testing it out anyway - im jealous lol

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  • 36. At 8:05pm on 08 Aug 2008, turtsy wrote:

    It is hardly cheating, because someone makes a running shoe lighter or more streamlined, is that cheating?

    The way some people go on you would think they would only be happy if we were all running about with no technology and living in caves.

    Oh and saxoneagle give it a rest, take yourself off for and read a dictionary or something equally exciting

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  • 37. At 02:47am on 09 Aug 2008, chorusline wrote:

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAH!!! serious this is flippin' hilarious!!

    I want more of this kind of articles!!! it's FUN!!!

    and saxoneagle SUCKS!!!

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  • 38. At 4:26pm on 09 Aug 2008, swimmerGH wrote:

    Just like to point out that the Daily Mail did this back in July http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1036784/What-happened-girl-took-plunge-250-speed-suit-thats-broken-42-world-records.html

    This topic has been reported before and I find it a waste of money reporting from Beijing about the suit seeing as the hype happened a good few months ago.

    As a very competitive swimmer, I'd laugh at anyone who bought and wore this suit to 'train' in or just paddle around in like this guy did. It's a racing suit!!!

    Lastly there wasn't much testing going on. Tom could have done a swim in plain old 'Mark Spitz' trucks then compared it to a swim in the LZR. Also, what about the new suits that have been produced to rival the LZR. TYR, Blue Seventy, Arena and Diana have all come out with rival suits like the LZR in the last month or so. It would have show intelligence and would have been very interesting for me if he could have bothered to do something original and tested these 5 suits against each other and a pair of trunks.

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  • 39. At 10:33am on 13 Aug 2008, jtford wrote:

    Great article, I don't believe the aim was ever to provide stats of the performance of 5 skin suits Vs each other.

    I am also not convinced its Saxoneagle that should go and read the dictionary for fun, seems that the other not competitive sports fan Pippsey should go and have a good read (blog21). I have been looking for an hour in the OED and cannot find polatic's.

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  • 40. At 05:57am on 21 Aug 2008, trumpsterdoodle wrote:

    I am watching the women's platform diving finals on 8/20 and the female commentator is so biased that she annoys me. It is rather clear that she does not like the Chinese divers and prefers the Americans. If it is a great dive--admit it. Stop making excuses for the Americans. Get the lady with the drawl off the air!

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  • 41. At 06:11am on 21 Aug 2008, trumpsterdoodle wrote:

    Who is Ted Robinson's partner/commentator? She needs to try to be more objective.

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  • 42. At 04:52am on 22 Aug 2008, trumpsterdoodle wrote:

    Cindy, the commentator for women's platform diving, likes to focus on the blood to the head of the chinese diver, rather than the clean entry that she made. Cindy--your comments can be so annoying!

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