Despite swimsuit brouhaha, Michael Phelps re-signs with Speedo

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In 2003, Michael Phelps was a promising but largely unknown swimmer. In those days, before his six gold medal wins at the 2004 Olympics and long before his incredible eight gold medals at the 2008 Olympics, he was best known for his record-breaking performance at the 2003 World Championships. Recognizing his amazing potential, swimsuit maker Speedo signed the swimmer to a multi-million dollar contract, the company's biggest endorsement deal to date. The move later proved prescient, as Phelps' rising popularity has helped polish the brand.

Phelps' contract recently expired, and Speedo rushed to re-sign the amazing swimmer. According to the terms of the new deal, Phelps and Speedo will be in business until at least 2013, taking the pair through the eagerly-anticipated 2012 Olympics.

If there was any hiccup in the Phelps-Speedo lovefest, it lay in the Arena X-Glide, the suit that German Paul Biedermann wore when he defeated Phelps in the 200-meter freestyle at this year's World Swimming Championships. Because of his relationship with Speedo, Phelps wasn't able to wear the suit, which even Biedermann admitted was at least partially responsible for his two-second win over the legendary swimmer.
However, the Federation Internationale de Natation (FINA), the body that governs international swimming, has decided to ban all performance-enhancing suits. The new rules, which go into effect on January 1, 2010, state that men's swimsuits can only extend from the waist to the top of the knees. According to some sources, the new restriction is at least partially in response to a statement from Phelps' coach, who threatened to pull the swimmer from competition until the suits were banned.

This move placed Phelps somewhat in opposition to Speedo; while the swimmer has fought performance-enhancing suits, the suitmaker greatly benefits from their sales. In fact, the relationship between the two has previously fueled sales of the swimwear: in the Beijing Olympics, Phelps wore Speedo's LZR Racer, massively propelling sales.

However, despite their disappointment at the move, Speedo was quick to stand behind its man. In a press release, the company pointed out that it is happy to work with Phelps to ban the suits, although it is displeased at the severity of the restrictions. The apparent contradictions in the statement mirror the company's confusion: on the one hand, polyurethane suits are a lucrative opportunity for the company to push proprietary designs. On the other hand, the suits may have cost Phelps a race. Faced with a loss of income from suits or a loss of income from Phelps' defection, the company has made the best compromise possible.

This is hardly the first problem that Speedo has had with its spokesman. In 2004, Phelps was charged with driving under the influence. He managed to weather that particular scandal with minimal ill effects; this year, however, the release of a picture showing him using a bong cost him lucrative Kellogg's and Subway endorsements. As always, however, Speedo stood behind him. Now that the scandal has passed and Biedermann's victory has given the swimmer a little more motivation to train harder, the future looks bright for the pair.

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