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Nagano OKs Skating Strips

Olympic speed skaters can continue to use the controversial aerodynamic rubber strips which helped Dutchman Gianni Romme to demolish his own world record, the International Skating Union ruled on Monday.

"The technical delegates and the ISU council are fully satisfied that there is no breach of the rules," ISU technical delegate Gerd Zimermann said after a meeting of the governing body.

Norway and Japan lodged official protests after Romme, wearing the strips on his skin suit, slashed more than eight seconds off his own 5,000 meters world record on Sunday. He clocked a winning time of six minutes 22.20 seconds.

Norwegian head coach Sletten Svein Havard said he thought the strips violated ISU rule 276 on skater's equipment, which states that insertion or attachment of forms or devices to create a different shape is not permitted.

The complaints were rejected by ISU referee Folkert Brouwer, who received full support from the technical delegates at Monday's meeting.

"The technical delegates ruled that the strips, which are one centimeter wide, two centimeters steep and only 1.5 millimeters deep, do not create a different shape," said an ISU spokeswoman.

The zig-zagging thin rubber strips, two of which are worn on each shin and one over the forehead, reduce drag.

Romme's Compatriot Rintje Ritsma and Dutch-born Belgian Bart Veldkamp, silver and bronze medalists respectively, also wore the strips.

The Dutch team, who had been conducting secret research to speed up their skaters since the 1994 Lillehammer Olympics, presented the strips to ISU's technical delegates on Thursday and late on Saturday. They received permission to use them at the Olympics.

"Maybe it (ISU's late decision) created a difficulty for some competitors but the psychological advantage (from using the strips) was much stronger than any possibility of a physical advantage," Zimermann said.

Records were expected to tumble on Nagano's high-tech rink as all the top competitors are now familiar with the new, hinged clap skates, which allow skaters to lift their heel while taking a stride.

The clap skates, first used by the Dutch women's team in long distance events last season, have prompted a run of world records.

"We have enjoyed constant progress in speed skating over the years," said Zimermann. "That includes the clap skates as well as the strips and I think it's good for the image of our sport."

Adding devices to reduce air turbulence are nothing new in speed skating as Canadian sprinter Catriona Le May Doan explained.

"I've been using these for years, and nobody's made a fuss about it," she said.

Canadian coach Robert Tremblay also played down the effect of the strips.

"The strips make a real difference for speeds close to 100 kph but we don't go that fast," he said. "It could just be mind games."

American coach Geerd Kemkers said he heard the Dutch skaters say hey thought the strips could help them gain half a second a lap. "That means they're as good as the clap skates," he said.

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