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Lindsey Vonn race suit: How big an advantage at Vancouver Olympics?

Lindsey Vonn race suit: Vonn, Bode Miller, and the rest of the skiers on the USA and Canada teams are wearing an ultra-fast race suit at the Vancouver Olympics designed by Spyder, whose previous super-suit was banned for being unfair.

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Miller is known to experiment with the newest technologies. He tinkers with his own skis for enhanced performance, and uses special arm guards.

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Other Olympics athletes are more interested in the newest designs for mere fashion. Spyder designed eight unique uniforms for Lindsey Vonn, one representing each past World Cup event she's won, according to a Spyder press release, which said the custom suits “incorporate patterns, plaids, and vibrant colors that Vonn finds appealing.”

Snowboarders, meanwhile, have been competing in faux-jeans with a faux-sag (the pants just look sagged, because of the stitching).

Past controversies

Fashion aside, hi-tech suits that give an athlete a competitive advantage have garnered controversy.

In the mid-1990s, Spyder built a suit called SpeedWyre, which incorporated a “tripwire” into the surface that reduced aerodynamic drag and created a more streamlined flow. American skiers Picabo Street and Hillary Lindh both won World Championships in it. Complaints followed, and the International Ski Federation (FIS) banned the SpeedWyre suit.

In the Beijing Summer Olympics, the US Swim Team came under scrutiny for its special Speedo suits.

The swimsuit controversy continued into 2009. At the world championships last July, the German swimmer Paul Biedermann broke the 400-meter freestyle world record while wearing the polyurethane Arena X-Glide, which was a notch above Michael Phelps’s own NASA-consulted Speedo LZR Racer. Biedermann improved his time 4 seconds from Beijing and beat Phelps in the race.

FINA, the international governing body for swimming, has voted to ban the polyurethane suits, though the enforcement date is unsettled. Following the swimsuit controversy, the New York Times offered input from six leading swimming, tennis, and bicycling experts.

“You want to ensure that athletes from affluent backgrounds or countries don’t have an unfair advantage over other players and win only because of superior equipment,” said Martina Navratilova, the world’s former No. 1 women’s tennis player.

The US Ski Team, for its part, hasn’t seemed to mind the attention.

“It's the Louis Vuitton of suits, made with precision and quality,” American downhiller Steven Nyman told the AP.

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