It is out of the pool and into the federal court for two of the largest U.S. swimsuit makers in a battle over high-tech and high-priced swimwear.
Privately held TYR Sport Inc, the second-largest swimwear maker, filed suit against No. 1, the unit of Warnaco Group Inc. that makes Speedo swimsuits, in U.S. District Court for Central California. The suit alleges violations of federal and state antitrust laws, restraint of trade and false advertising in connection with the high-tech Speedo LZR Racer that sells for more than $500.
TYR also sued USA Swimming, the sport's national governing body, and its head coach, Mark Schubert.
Schubert told U.S. Olympic swim team hopefuls that they had better wear Speedo at this summer's team trials for the Beijing Olympics "or they may end up at home watching on NBC," according to the lawsuit.
TYR also sued two-time Olympian Erik Vendt, who had signed to endorse its product but chose to wear a Speedo suit to a January competition.
Vendt, a silver medalist, could not be reached for comment, but his agent, Evan Morgenstein of Premier Management Group, LLC, told Reuters: "There is no way, shape or form that he violated his contract."
Morgenstein said that as a result of the "unfair treatment" Vendt received, his company, which represents more than 30 Olympic athletes, will no longer do business with TYR Sport.
Unfair advantage for Speedo?
Warnaco did not return phone calls seeking comment. USA Swimming declined to comment and Schubert could not be reached for comment.
"In exchange for substantial financial contributions Speedo makes to USA Swimming" the sport's governing body refuses "to offer sponsorship opportunities" to Speedo's competitors, TYR said in the lawsuit.
Schubert, the national team's head coach, "is a paid spokesman for Speedo," the lawsuit said. He has promoted the Speedo LZR Racer to elite swimmers, claiming the full-body suit gives them a 2 percent advantage. Such a slim edge is quite big in a sport where wins are often measured in tenths of a second.
In interviews, Schubert said: "U.S. swimmers who were using another brand than Speedo had backed the wrong horse ...," according to court papers.
"The effects of his comments were the equivalent to a threat," Lawrence Hilton, TYR's lawyer, told Reuters.
TYR makes a similar suit that retails for $375.
The company alleged that Speedo, USA Swimming and Schubert "combined to engage in a campaign of falsely disparaging the products of Speedo's competitors, including TYR, for the purpose of inducing competitive swimmers to refrain from doing business with Speedo's competitors."