Japan's Olympic swimmers want to wear Speedos

Posted by: Ian Rowley on June 9, 2008

An Olympic year is usually a great opportunity for sportswear manufacturers to show off their wares, but the run up to the Beijing Games this summer isn’t going at all well for Japan’s swimwear manufacturers. The reason? Swimmers swim faster when wearing high tech swimsuits made by U.K. rival Speedo International.

The problem shouldn’t be underestimated. Yesterday, in Tokyo trading, stock in Goldwin Inc, which has the rights to sell Speedo products in Japan, surged 22% after Japanese swimmers set new national and world records at the weekend while kitted out in Speedo’s LZR Racer gear, which was developed with help from NASA. Wearing a Speedo bodysuit, Olympic gold medalist Kosuke Kitajima, broke the men’s 200 meters breaststroke world record. Stock prices for Mizuno, Descente and Asics, which are all approved by the Japan Swimming Federation all lost ground.

Worse could be yet to come for the trio of Japanese swimwear manufacturers. Today, the body will decide whether it will allow Japan’s Olympic hopefuls to wear swimwear of their own choosing at Beijing this summer. Kitajima seems to have made his mind up already. “It’s a shame Japanese swimmers haven’t been permitted to wear the Speedo suit,” Kitajima told Reuters at the Olympic send-off competition in Tokyo where he chalked up the world record.

Of the three Japanese makers, the success of Speedo’s LZR line, which was introduced in February, must be most galling for Mizuno. Until last year, the Osaka-based company had a tie-up with Speedo which dated back to the 1960s. But it ended the agreement six years early it to develop its own line.

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Bloomberg Businessweek’s team of Asia reporters brings you the latest insights on business, politics, technology and culture from some of the world’s biggest and fastest-growing economies.

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