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  1. Using times from Masters Meets for USA Swimming Purposes

    by , February 3rd, 2018 at 11:36 AM (Rules Committee Blog)
    How can I get my times from Masters meets recorded for official purposes by USA Swimming?

    Many swimmers ask about using their times from Masters meets for USA Swimming official purposes, such as qualifying for USA Swimming meets.

    USMS (the meet director or an official from the LMSC) must request approval from USA Swimming to have the meet observed by USA Swimming for this purpose. This is not routinely done and is normally reserved for championship (LMSC, zone, national) or other large meets. A key requirement is having a sufficient number of USA Swimming certified officials
    available (normally a minimum of four officials with at least two designated observers) to judge the events for conformance with USA Swimming rules.

    If you think you have a need to record your times for this purpose, check with the meet director well in advance of the meet to ask if the host intends to apply for USA Swimming observation.

  2. How do I get my split times officially recorded?

    by , February 3rd, 2018 at 11:34 AM (Rules Committee Blog)
    How do I get my splits officially recorded?

    With championship meets on the horizon, many swimmers are interested in recording relay leadoff or initial splits in individual events for official purposes. Split times can be used for official purposes, including national qualifying times, top 10 times, and records, or just to record a time to measure your performance. It is good to review the rules to ensure that your splits will count for official purposes.

    What are the timing system requirements for recording splits?

    • An initial split or a relay leadoff split can be used for a world record if the split is timed with automatic equipment or, in the event of a touchpad malfunction, with a semiautomatic backup system consisting of at least one button.

    • An initial split or a relay leadoff split can be used for a USMS record if the split is timed with automatic equipment (a touchpad). If the touchpad fails, the leadoff split cannot be used for a USMS record.

    • An initial split or a relay leadoff split can be used for a USMS Top 10 time if the split is timed with automatic equipment, a semiautomatic timing system with a minimum of two buttons, or at least two valid watches.

    When do I need to submit a request to have my split recorded in the official results and how do I do that?

    You must submit a written request prior to your swim for relay leadoff splits and for initial backstroke distances in a longer backstroke event. We ask for a written request prior to these events so that officials can be notified and can judge the intermediate turns and relay exchanges appropriately. For all other initial splits in individual events, you must submit a written request prior to the end of the meet. Check with the meet director to obtain a split request form. In most cases, they will usually have them available at the check-in table when you arrive at the meet.

    What if the meet announcement states that splits will automatically be recorded?

    The rules allow for the meet host to automatically record some or all splits if the host desires. For national championships, automatic splits are mandatory, so your split times from all individual events will automatically be recorded and included in the official results, with the exception of backstroke events. Automatic splits may also be recorded for relays provided that officials are assigned to judge the exchanges and ensure that the second swimmer does not start in the water or stand on an active padand that the automatic timing system is properly functioning.

    If a meet host chooses this option, the meet announcement must state for which events splits are going to be automatically recorded. No written request is required for these events. For all other events (and, in all cases, backstroke individual events or an initial backstroke distance in the leadoff leg of a medley relay), a written request is still required. Check with the meet director if you are unsure based on guidance in the meet announcement.
  3. How do I make sure my record counts?

    by , January 6th, 2018 at 03:07 PM (Rules Committee Blog)
    Swimmers often ask: "What do I need to do to make sure my record (or potential top 10 swim) counts?" There are several things for which swimmers can look to ensure that their swims count for records and top 10.

    Meet Directors and LMSC Officers should be aware of these requirements and provide the necessary resources to recognize official times. However, some meets may require action by the swimmer, so it is good to be aware of the rules and read the information in the meet announcement carefully.

    Is the meet sanctioned or recognized by United States Masters Swimming (USMS)?

    Sanctioned meets are required to follow all of the rules of competition which should ensure times may be used for all official purposes. Times from sanctioned meets are generally submitted by the LMSC for consideration without any further action required by the swimmer, but if you have questions on the status of a record application, you can follow up with your LMSC Top 10 recorder.

    • The meet announcement must have a statement that says "sanctioned by (LMSC name) for USMS, Inc."
    • All participants in USMS sanctioned meets must be members of USMS, so the meet entry process should include verification of membership and a liability release.
    • Times from sanctioned meets must be submitted for FINA world record consideration within 60 days of the swim.

    Recognized meets may also be used to achieve USMS records and top 10 rankings. These are usually meets conducted by other organizations, but the host has agreed to conduct the meet under USMS rules so the times may be used for official purposes. A USMS observer must be assigned to the recognized meet by the LMSC. The USMS observer must submit a written report to the LMSC verifying whether the relevant USMS rules were followed. The meet announcement should state that the meet is recognized by USMS and swimmers could ask the meet director if these conditions have been satisfied.

    Times from recognized meets are not automatically submitted for consideration, so it is the swimmer's responsibility to submit the times and documentation to the appropriate LMSC Top 10 recorder. This may include the need to submit documentation on the pool measurement (see below).

    A few additional notes on recognized meets:

    • USA Swimming sanctioned meets are automatically recognized without the need for a formal application for recognition. USMS members who compete in a USA Swimming meet, as a USA Swimming athlete, may submit their times for consideration, but proper documentation (including pool measurement verification for USMS records) is required.

    • FINA will not accept times from recognized meets for world record or world top 10 consideration.

    • Times achieved by USMS members at events sanctioned by a FINA member federation (i.e., a masters meet in another country) may be submitted without a formal application for recognition as long as the USMS swimmer registers for the meet as a USMS member.

    • Times achieved at FINA World Masters Championships will automatically submitted for USMS record and top 10 consideration.

    Is the timing system sufficient to allow for records and top 10?

    • World and USMS records now require automatic timing (automatic start and touchpad finish). Without touchpads, it is not possible to achieve a record.
      • In the event of a touchpad malfunction, records may also be achieved using a semi-automatic backup system with three, two, or one button(s).
      • If the touchpad and buttons both fail, a single watch may be used to establish a top 10 time, but watches may not be used to establish records.
      • A minimum of two timers is advised in the event that one of the buttons also malfunctions.

    • If touchpads are not in use, a semi-automatic system (buttons) or watches may still be used to establish USMS top 10 times, but a minimum of two valid times are required.

    If touchpads are in use and there are at least two timers assigned to each lane, operating buttons and watches, all swims should count for records and top 10 barring complete failures of all timing systems (extremely rare). If touchpads are not in use and there are at least two timers per lane, all swims should count for top 10 consideration.

    Have the pool measurement rules been satisfied?

    • Sanctioned meets must have a statement in the meet announcement that indicates whether the pool measurement is on file with USMS and is in compliance with USMS rules, so check for this statement. For recognized meets, swimmers may need to check with the meet director if this information is not provided.

    • If a bulkhead is in use, the bulkhead placement must be confirmed with a measurement before and after each session. For recognized meets, swimmers may need to check with the meet director to ensure that this requirement is met and to obtain a copy of the measurement to submit to your LMSC Top 10 recorder.

    Are there enough officials?

    • There should be a minimum of two deck officials for the duration of the meet. There must be a meet referee, a starter, and two stroke and turn officials, but the referee and starter may perform the duties of a stroke and turn judge.

    • Officials must be certified by an approved certifying body (USMS, USA Swimming, NCAA, or High School Federation). The LMSC should verify that these requirements are met, but swimmers could also check with the meet director or meet referee at recognized meets.

    Is the documentation sufficient to accompany the record application?

    • Record applications must include a copy of the official meet results, timing system printout, and a copy of the heat sheet. A copy of the swimmer's birth certificate must accompany the record application or be on file with USMS.

    • Formal record applications are not required for swims at USMS National Championships or FINA World Championships.

    If I swim an event and miss the record, can I ask to re-swim the event later in the meet in another attempt to break the record?

    • No, except for postponement or a foul, there are no provisions for re-swimming a race. Time trials may only be conducted at short course yard (SCY) meets, but additional time trials or additional events may not be added to meet once the order of events is published in the meet announcement.

    Can I ask my LMSC to sanction another meet for me to attempt a record?

    • An LMSC can sanction a meet at their discretion pursuant to LMSC policies, but any event offered at a sanctioned meet must be offered to all age groups and both genders. The order of events must be published in the meet announcement at least one week prior to the entry deadline.

    Can my relay leadoff or initial split be submitted for a record application or top 10 consideration?

    • A relay leadoff split may be submitted provided automatic timing is used (touchpads) and the second swimmer does not start in the water.

    • A leadoff split may be submitted provided automatic timing is used and a written split request is submitted prior to the event (for backstroke events) or prior to the end of the meet (all other events).

    • For USMS national championship meets, leadoff and initial splits will automatically be submitted for consideration without the need for a written request (except for backstroke events).
  4. Completely Submerged

    by , December 3rd, 2017 at 11:16 AM (Rules Committee Blog)
    What are the rules about being completely submerged in butterfly and backstroke? Can swimmers be disqualified for being completely submerged after the 15-meter mark?

    The short answer is yes, it can be an infraction to be completely submerged in butterfly, backstroke, and even freestyle under certain circumstances. This month's blog post will explain the rules and what officials should be observing and reporting.


    Article 101.2.2 says that it shall be permissible for a swimmer to be completely submerged for a distance of not more than 15 meters after the start and after each turn. By that point, the head must have broken the surface of the water. The swimmer must remain on the surface prior to the next turn or finish. The swimmer is permitted one or more leg kicks, but only one arm pull underwater, which must bring the swimmer to the surface.

    Sometimes in butterfly, swimmers will take a stroke, tuck the head after breathing, and then extend the stroke before taking the next pull. If such action results in the swimmer being completely submerged, even if just for a moment, does that constitute an infraction?
    The answer is yes, this constitutes an infraction if this action occurs after the first arm pull that brings the swimmer to the surface after the start or after the turn.

    What if this action occurs before the 15-meter mark? Wouldn’t that be permissible since the swimmer is permitted to be completely submerged for a distance up to 15-meters after the start and after each turn?

    The answer is no, the action is still not permitted because the swimmer is allowed only one arm pull underwater. That arm pull must bring the swimmer to the surface and the swimmer must remain on the surface until the next turn or finish. Even if the swimmer surfaces before the 15-meter mark, the swimmer may not be completely submerged after the first pull.

    However, we should note that in order for this call to be made, the official needs to ensure that the observation is clear and definitive. The official must be able to clearly observe and report the swimmer was completely submerged, taking into account the need to observe all lanes equitably. In most cases, this infraction would need to be observed from the side of the pool, so the official needs to ensure that swimmers in the middle of the pool are being judged the same as swimmers in other lanes. Things like the glare on the surface, wave action, and obstructions need to be taken into account and the swimmer should receive the benefit of the doubt. However, if the official can report with confidence that the swimmer was indeed completely submerged - not even a finger, hair follicle, or toenail above the surface of the water - then it is indeed an infraction.

    What about reaching for the wall at the turn or finish with the head down and arms extended under the water?

    If the swimmer is completely submerged prior to making the touch, then this action also constitutes an infraction. The comments on a clear and convincing observation also apply to this type of call. Once the official's gaze has shifted from observing the stroke to watching the end wall for a legal touch, the official may not be able to definitively see the entire body, making it difficult to make this call with certainty. But if the official can report a clear observation that the swimmer was completely submerged prior to the touch, then the swimmer should be disqualified.


    The rules for backstroke are similar, but the wording is different. Article 101.4.2 says that some part of the swimmer must break the surface of the water throughout the race, except that it shall be permissible for the swimmer to be complete submerged during the turn and for a distance of not more than 15 meters after the start and after each turn. By that point, the head must have broken the surface of the water.

    Some swimmers will use a double arm backstroke pull (sometimes called "elementary backstroke"). The action of pulling back with both arms while tilting the head backwards might result in the swimmer being completely submerged. Is that illegal?

    The answer is yes if the action occurs after the 15-meter mark. But, the same comments regarding a clear and convincing observation apply to this situation. The official needs to ensure that the swimmer was indeed completely submerged - the entire body from head to toe. If the official cannot observe the entire body to say the swimmer was completely submerged, the swimmer should receive the benefit of the doubt.

    What if this action occurs prior to the 15-meter mark?

    In this case, the rules say that swimmer may be completely submerged for a distance of not more than 15 meters after the start and after each turn. So, a swimmer could surface, submerge, and then re-surface prior to the 15-meter mark. If the action described above occurs prior to the 15-meter mark, it would not be an infraction.

    Same question as butterfly, what about "diving" backwards for the wall at the finish?

    The same answer as in the butterfly (see above) applies. If a swimmer is completely submerged prior to the touch, then it would be an infraction. But, official must be able to observe that the entire body is submerged before the official shifts to judging the touch at the finish.

    Being completely submerged at the touch - in other words, at the instant that the hand touches the wall - is not necessarily an infraction. The observation of being completely submerged must be prior to the touch.


    This question does not arise as often in freestyle, but there is also a requirement to surface within 15-meters in freestyle events.

    Article 101.5.2 for freestyle has the same language as backstroke. It says that some part of the swimmer must break the surface of the water throughout the race, except that it is permissible for the swimmer to be completely submerged during the turn and for a distance up to 15-meters after the start and after each turn.

    Therefore, if a swimmer does anything that results in being completely submerged after the 15-meter mark in a freestyle event, that constitutes an infraction.
  5. Automatic Relay Takeoff Judging Equipment

    by , November 26th, 2017 at 12:05 PM (Rules Committee Blog)
    I have been asked questions recently regarding the use of relay takeoff judging equipment at USMS meets.

    We have to look at several sections of the rules for context on how to use automatic relay takeoff judging equipment.

    First, there is article 102.13.1 which discusses disqualifications:

    We say that the referee, starter, or S&T judge, upon observing an infraction, shall immediately raise one-hand overhead. When there is dual confirmation of relay takeoffs (article 103.10.5B), a disqualification is not initiated by raising one hand overhead.

    So, then we look at 103.10.5B for the dual confirmation process:

    This article says that the lane and side takeoff judges shall independently report infractions in writing. A relay shall be disqualified only if the lane takeoff judge has reported an infraction and the assigned side takeoff judge has confirmed the same infraction.

    For the use of RJT equipment, we then look at 103.10.5C:

    When automatic relay takeoff equipment is in use, the system printout will provide the information to judge relay exchanges. Integrated backup timing cameras may be reviewed by the referee to confirm the automatic system’s results. When backup timing cameras are not available, the referee will determine the confirmation process.

    There is no threshold specified in the FINA rules, but the wording is very similar to the above. FINA rule SW 13.1 says that when automatic officiating equipment (including RJT equipment) is used, the relay takeoffs judged by the automatic equipment shall have precedence.

    So, the answer is that we have no established numerical threshold in USMS for initiating a call from the automatic RJT equipment. For most of our meets, we do not have the use of the integrated backup timing cameras (I am only aware that we have ever used the full-up system at one meet – the 2012 LC Nationals in Omaha).

    So, a reasonable protocol, considering all of the provisions in the rules, is that the officials on deck must initiate the call, preferably through the dual confirmation process. The RJT equipment can be used to confirm the call absent a fully integrated automatic system with overhead backup timing cameras to confirm the results. This is the best way to ensure that swimmers receive the benefit of the doubt.

    Given that this is an another example of technology which is becoming more widespread, we will work with the officials committee to develop a consistent protocol that we can provide to LMSCs.
  6. Frequently Asked Questions

    by , November 9th, 2017 at 08:26 PM (Rules Committee Blog)
    In this Rules Blog entry, we answer a few frequently asked questions about relays, splits, and distance events.

    Question: At a recent meet, we were told that our relays would be disqualified if we didn’t use the swimmers’ registered names on the relay cards. Can they do that?

    Answer: Yes. It is a violation of 102.9.4. The name on the relay card must be the full name as it appears on the USMS membership card along with the swimmer's age and, for mixed relays, the gender of each swimmer. The order of swimmers in the relay must be declared to the head lane timer before the start of the relay heat and no changes are permitted after that point.

    Question: Can a swimmer get an official butterfly split time from an IM and have it count for records and top 10?

    Answer: Yes, if the split time is recorded by fully automatic timing, the swimmer completes the race without being disqualified, and the swimmer requests the split in writing before the conclusion of the meet. A swimmer could get an official 50 fly split time and an official 100 fly split time from the 400 IM, and both split times could count as official times for USMS records and Top 10. An exception to the requirement for a written request is when the meet has been approved for automatic splits. National Championship meets now have automatic splits for individual events, so the initial splits will be recorded for all individual events, except for backstroke.

    Question: What about backstroke splits in a backstroke event or a medley relay?

    Answer: Backstroke splits must be requested in writing before the event. This requirement exists because the initial split must conform to the finish rules for backstroke which require a swimmer to touch the wall while on the back. Therefore, officials must be alerted to judge the initial leg for conformance with finish rules. For example, if you request a 50-meter split in a 100-meter backstroke event, you would be required to touch the wall while on your back at the 50-meter mark.

    Question: Why isn’t there a warning signal for the 400 free in a 25-meter pool or the 400 IM? What about counters?

    Answer: Article 103.8.7 states that a starter will provide a warning signal in events 500 yards or longer. So, the 400 free and the 400 IM events do not require a warning signal. The rules say that a swimmer may have a counter for events of 16 lengths or more except for the individual medley. Therefore, swimmers may have a counter for a 400-meter free in a 25-meter pool, but not in a 50-meter pool. Swimmers are not entitled to have a counter in a 400 IM.
  7. Major Changes for 2018

    by , October 1st, 2017 at 12:46 PM (Rules Committee Blog)

    At our recent USMS National Convention in Dallas, the House of Delegates approved several changes to the rules that will take effect on January 1, 2018. These changes are summarized below. You can post any questions using the comments tool or send them to:

    World Records and USMS Records: Applications for world records and USMS records will no longer be accepted when timed with manual watches or with a semiautomatic timing system (buttons) as the primary timing system. World and USMS records must be timed with automatic timing (touchpads) or, in the event of an individual lane malfunction, with a semiautomatic backup system consisting of three, two, or one button(s). Manual watches and semiautomatic buttons will continue to be accepted for USMS Top 10 recognition.

    Notification of Timing System in the Meet Announcement: If it is not possible to satisfy the timing system requirements for world records, USMS records, or Top 10, the meet announcement must include a statement notifying swimmers. If a change in primary timing is necessary prior to a meet or during a meet that affects the ability to earn records or Top 10 recognition, meet directors must ensure that swimmers are notified of the change.

    Starting Grips: Handgrips on the starting platforms are distinguished between grips for backstroke starts and forward starts. During backstroke events, swimmers may not use handgrips installed on the top of the starting platform which are intended for use during forward starts. During backstroke starts, swimmers must place both hands on the gutter or on the backstroke starting grips.

    Freestyle during Individual Medley and Medley Relay events: Swimmers must be at or past the vertical towards the breast during the freestyle leg of an individual medley or medley relay event, except that during a turn (freestyle turn or breast-to-free transition), swimmers may leave the wall in a position at or past the vertical towards the back. Swimmers must return to a position at or past the vertical towards the breast before any stroke or kick.

    Relay Starts with Adjustable Back Plates on the Starting Platform: The second, third, and fourth swimmers on a relay team must have at least part of one foot in front of the adjustable-setting back plate during a relay takeoff.

    Modification of Age Groups: Organizations outside of USMS requesting a USMS sanction to conduct a meet may modify the age groups to correspond to different minimum and maximum ages if their organization’s age policies differ from USMS.

    Meet Announcement: The order of events must be published in the meet announcement at least one week prior to the entry deadline.

    Dual Sanctioned Meets: When a USMS meet is held in conjunction with a USA Swimming sanctioned meet (swimmers from both organizations swimming together in the same session), swimmers must select only one organization with which to compete for the entire meet.

    Warm Down: A swimmer who completes a race may warm down in the assigned lane while the rest of the swimmers finish the heat and shall not be disqualified if that swimmer does not delay the start of the next heat.

    Automatic Splits at National Championships: Recording of intermediate splits is a mandatory requirement for hosts of national championship meets.
  8. Changes to FINA Rules

    by , September 6th, 2017 at 09:01 PM (Rules Committee Blog)
    United States Masters Swimming (USMS) is a member federation of FINA - Federation Internationale de Natation Amateur - the international governing body for aquatic sports. Both USMS and USA Swimming follow the rules of FINA so world records and world top 10 performances can be recognized and so we can have consistency in the rules within the sport.

    FINA typically considers rule changes during the first year of the quadrennial (the year after the Olympics) when the FINA Congress meets at the World Championships. This is a long process that begins almost a year prior to the Congress when member federations have an opportunity to propose changes.

    The FINA Congress met on July 21, 2017 at the World Championships in Budapest. There were two changes approved to the swimming rules (those affect USA Swimming and USMS) and one change specifically approved for masters.

    The first change to the swimming rules is not really a substantive change at all, just a clarification in wording. FINA deleted a sentence from the rule that said "underwater kicking on the side is permitted". That does not mean that underwater kicking on the side is suddenly illegal in butterfly. FINA simply thought that the sentence was redundant and decided to take it out of the rule. The USMS rule does not have this language and since there is no change in how the butterfly will be judged, we don’t need to change the USMS rules. Keep those underwater kicks!

    The second change affects the freestyle leg of individual medley and medley relay events. You might recall that in 2015, FINA issued an interpretation of the current rule that said swimmers cannot be in a position on (or towards) the back when swimming freestyle in an IM or medley relay event. This is because being in a position on the back constitutes a legal backstroke and swimmers are not permitted to repeat a stroke previously swum on the freestyle leg of an IM or medley relay (butterfly, backstroke, or breaststroke). This interpretation had the unintended consequence of making it illegal to execute a freestyle turn and leave the wall on your back, even if only for a short time followed by a correction to a position on the breast.

    The rule change would still prohibit swimming in a position on (or towards) the back for most of the freestyle leg of an IM or MR event. But, swimmers will now be permitted to leave the wall on the back, as long as you return to a position on (or towards) the breast before any stroke or kick.

    The third change affects the timing systems required to set a world masters record. Previously, FINA accepted world records when timed with an automatic timing system (touchpads), a semiautomatic primary timing system (automatic start with a button finish), and hand-held watches. Less than 5% of world records in recent years were set with any timing system other than automatic (touchpads). FINA will no longer accept world record applications unless timed with an automatic primary system (touchpads). In the event of a touchpad malfunction, FINA will accept record applications from a one, two, or three button semiautomatic backup system. Buttons may only be used as backup in case of touchpad failure, they may not be used as the primary system for records.

    These changes are effective September 21, 2017. Since USMS automatically adopts changes from FINA, the IM rule will also take effect in USMS sanctioned meets on this date. With our upcoming USMS National Convention, we will be distributing the rule changes to LMSC officials at convention and prior to September 21 to ensure that everyone is informed of the changes.
  9. Butterfly Stroke Disqualifications

    by , July 4th, 2017 at 05:12 PM (Rules Committee Blog)
    "Why was I disqualified in my butterfly event"? Most swimmers agree that butterfly is one of the most difficult strokes to swim, so it is not surprising that we get lots of questions about the rules. Here we break down the rules for the butterfly stroke and some of the common reasons for disqualifications.

    Beginning with body position, the rules say that after the start and after each turn, the swimmer's shoulders must be at our past the vertical toward the breast. (In one location, it says that the body must be "on the breast", but this is one of the confusing points in how the rules are worded. We use this language because it matches the FINA wording, but if you look closely "on the breast" in this context means the same thing as "towards the breast".) The swimmer is permitted one or more butterfly kicks underwater (but only one breaststroke kick), but only one arm pull, which must bring the swimmer to the surface. At the start of the first pull, the body must be on the breast.

    Does that mean that I can leave the wall on my side or without being perfectly on the breast? Yes, it does. Does that mean I can kick butterfly on my side underwater before I take the first pull? Yes, that is also permissible, as long as the body is on the breast at the first pull.

    Can I kick underwater as long as I want? No, because the rules also say that the head must break the surface of the water by the 15-meter mark after the start and after each turn.

    The arms must recover over the surface of the water. The glossary defines "arm" as the part of the body from the wrist to the elbow. Therefore, some part of the arm from the wrist to the elbow must clear the water surface during each stroke.

    A common infraction is when swimmers are attempting to recover the arms by moving them forward, but the body position is such that the arms don’t break the surface the water before beginning the recovery. It is not sufficient for only the hands to break the surface, some part of the arm from the wrist to elbow must break the surface while the arms are moving forward during the recovery phase of the stroke. This does not mean that the entire arm must clear the surface of the water or that there needs to be a space between the bottom of the arm and the water surface. Typically, the officials will see this infraction clearly when standing behind the swimmer, but it can be called from the sides as well.

    Another common infraction occurs when swimmers take a partial stroke, then move the arms forward underwater from the breast before finishing the propulsive phase of the stroke. Sometimes this happens prior to a touch at the wall before the turn or finish. It most commonly occurs with incorrect body position or breathing and results from not being able to complete the propulsive part of the stroke without an adjustment.

    All movements of the arms must be simultaneous. That means that arms must consistently move together during all phases of the stroke, backward during the propulsive part and forwards during the recovery. Does that mean that they must be perfectly symmetrical? Not necessarily, but if the official observes one arm clearly ahead of or behind the other arm, that may constitute an infraction. A one arm pull, freestyle stroke, or other type of stroke would be a more obvious non-simultaneous arm pull.

    Reaching up to adjust the goggles? Also a non-simultaneous action. Stopping in the middle of the pool to catch a breath or wave to a friend? Definitely non-simultaneous movements of the arms.

    At the wall, a legal touch may be made at, above, or below the surface of the water, but must be made with two hands simultaneously. A one hand touch is not only a common infraction, but it is also one of the easiest things for an official to spot. The hands must be separated when the touch is made. In other words, the hands cannot be stacked on top of each other.

    Once a legal touch is made, the swimmer may turn in any manner desired. Stopping momentarily after the touch to hang on the wall and catch your breath? Thankfully, that is legal! As long as the body is toward the breast when the feet the leave the wall after the turn. However, walking on the bottom of the pool or leaving the pool is not legal in any stroke.

    What if I make a legal touch, stand on the bottom of the pool for a moment, and then push off the wall? You might be surprised to learn that this is legal. Although the rules say that it is not legal to stand on the bottom of the pool during the stroke in any stroke other than freestyle, the action described here occurs during the turn, not the stroke. And, the rules say that a swimmer may turn in any manner desired once a legal touch is made. Standing on the bottom before or after the turn is illegal, but during the turn is OK.
  10. Swimwear in Training and Competition

    by , June 4th, 2017 at 12:41 PM (Rules Committee Blog)
    Questions regarding swimwear seem to be a constant for masters swimmers.

    The latest issue of SWIMMER magazine features the ROKA SIM PRO II Buoyancy shorts (page 40). The article stresses its use for learning swim skills and training. It is great to know that there are products available to assist swimmers with these all-important skills.

    However, the article omits the all-important, specific statement that the suit is illegal for USMS competition and highlights the need to remind swimmers that there may be many products suitable for training, but not approved for competition.

    The swimwear rules are covered in article 102.12. Article 102.12.1D says that only suits complying with FINA swimsuit specifications may be worn in a USMS sanctioned or recognized competition. Suits are now tested and approved by FINA for the material (they must be made of textile materials), buoyancy, and permeability in order to ensure compliance with FINA standards.

    A complete list of FINA approved swimwear may be found here.

    In addition, there are several important requirements specified in article 102.12 for all pool competition.

    • Swimmers are permitted to wear only one swimsuit in one or two pieces.
    • For men, the suit may not extend above the naval or below the knee.
    • For women, the suit may not cover the neck, extend past the shoulders, or extend past the knee.
    • Swimwear may include a swimsuit, no more than two caps, and goggles. Ear plugs and nose clips are allowed, but armbands and legbands are not considered part of the suit and not allowed.

    Exceptions to these rules for verified medical conditions, religious beliefs, or other circumstances may be approved by the Rules Committee Chair on a case-by-case basis. With medical exceptions, we do our best to consult experts and determine the best solution for the swimmers. Therefore, swimmers seeking an exception are responsible for requesting such an exception and must allow enough time for an evaluation, which sometimes takes several days, up to a few weeks, depending on the circumstances. Asking for a medical exception the night before a meet is likely to result in disappointment!

    The rules for open water and long distance races are covered in 303.7.2 are similar for category I swimwear (i.e., no wetsuits). Men are permitted upper body coverage in open water races and the FINA list includes swimwear specifically approved for open water races. When category II swimwear is permitted, wetsuits, neoprene caps, or other heat-retaining swimwear may be allowed at the discretion of the event director if the water temperature is not greater than 78 degrees F.

    Articles 102.12 and 303.7.2 also mention the use of tape. There are many good products on the market to assist with training and recovery from injuries. But, again, many products that may be suitable for training are not approved for competition.

    USMS rule 102.12.1E (governing pool events) says that “Any kind of tape worn on the body is not permitted unless approved by the referee”. USMS rule 303.7.3C (governing long distance and open water event) also says that "Any kind of tape worn on the body is not permitted unless approved by the referee." The use of tape in competition is limited to situations involving verified medical conditions. The application of tape is intended to be for situations such as wound closure, taping of fingers or toes (no more than two), taping to secure medical devices, or other limited uses that would not provide any competitive advantage. The use of any kind of tape that purports to provide muscle compression; muscle, joint, or ligament stabilization; or other physical benefits, including therapeutic elastic tape or similar products, is never permitted in USMS competition.
  11. Use of Equipment in USMS Meets

    by , April 30th, 2017 at 01:16 PM (Rules Committee Blog)
    Occasionally, we will get a question that asks "Can I use a piece of equipment in a USMS sanctioned meet?" Usually for medical or disability reasons, a swimmer asks if it is permissible to use hand paddles, a pull buoy, a snorkel, fins, or some other type of equipment.

    In 102.13.9, we say that "No swimmers are permitted to wear or use any device or substance to enhance speed, pace, buoyancy, or endurance during a race (such as webbed gloves, fins, power bands, adhesive substances, snorkels, neoprene cps, etc.)" That rule is pretty clear in saying all types of equipment are prohibited in USMS meets.

    What about medical exceptions to the swimwear rules? In 102.12.1C(1), we say that exceptions may be granted by the chair of the rules committee for verified religious beliefs, verified medical conditions, or other reasons as deemed appropriate by the chair of the Rules Committee. So, while we can consider some exceptions to the rules regarding swimwear coverage or design, we still cannot grant exceptions that would provide a competitive advantage. (We say that explicitly in 102.12.1C(3)). The same language in 102.13.9 is repeated in 102.12.1E.

    It is also very important to remember that medical exceptions are intended to be for permanent conditions (or chronic enough conditions that they might be considered permanent), not temporary illnesses or injuries. As aging athletes, we all have to deal with illnesses, injuries, medical procedures, and the like from time to time. That can be frustrating when it disrupts our swimming or other aspects of our fitness routine. And, it can be frustrating to miss a competition for these reasons, especially if an injury happens leading up to the meet and it is not possible to fully recover in time. Frustrating as it might be, this type of situation is not grounds for seeking a medical exception to the swimwear rules.

    What about as a disability accommodation? Article 107 covers guidelines for officiating swimmers with disabilities and is intended to give the officials some latitude in granting accommodations. In Article 107, we define disabilities as permanent, life-altering, physical or cognitive conditions. So, again, conditions like injuries or illnesses do not fall into this category. While we can make many types of accommodations to facilitate participation by swimmers with disabilities, 107.1.2B(3) specifically says that "Aids to buoyancy or speed are not allowed (see 102.12.1E and 102.13.9)". So, the same restrictions apply even in disability questions.

    All of this means that we cannot permit the use of any type of equipment that would aid the swimmer or provide an competitive advantage. This includes items such as pull buoys, paddles, fins, snorkels, or other types of training equipment.

    The final question that we commonly get is "Can I do it anyway and accept a disqualification?" or "Can I swim exhibition?" We do not have an "exhibition" or similar type of "unofficial" category in USMS competition. There is no option to allow a swimmer to compete, do something that is not in compliance with the rules, and have it be "unofficial". The rules of competition are established and approved by the USMS membership and we have an obligation to apply those in a "fair and equitable" manner. Therefore, it is not our practice to encourage actions that are intentionally in violation of the rules.

    It is permissible to offer "non conforming" events in a meet. 102.5.3 says that "nonconforming events may be offered in accordance with the provisions of article 202.1.1G(3)". This article says that nonconforming events, which are defined as events not listed in the rule book or that would typically result in the disqualification of participants, may be offered as long as they are conducted in a safe manner. If a meet wanted to offer a nonconforming distance freestyle event, for example, and permit the use of equipment, that would be permitted. The event could be identified as nonconforming and swimmers would not be eligible for official forms of recognition (such as records or top ten). However, per the provisions in 102.5, nonconforming events must be offered to all age groups and both genders. In other words, the event is open to anyone, not just swimmers requesting an exception or a deviation. The events must be published in the meet announcement prior to the meet.

    While we make every effort to encourage and facilitate participation in competition by as many swimmers as possible, we also want to ensure that all competitions are conducted in accordance with the rules. Unfortunately, that means that we have to say "no" to requests at times. The good news is that even swimmers who are unable to compete in the manner that they would like, everyone can still enjoy the health, fitness, and social benefits of training. And, while it might be frustrating to miss a competition due to injury, there is always the option to come cheer on your teammates or volunteer to assist with the operation of the meet.
  12. Interpretation of Age Group Rules

    by , February 10th, 2017 at 08:33 PM (Rules Committee Blog)
    Recently some questions have been raised concerning the interpretation of rules regarding age groups at USMS sanctioned meets. For several weeks, the rules committee has researched the current rules, rationale, and historical context in order to answer these questions. The rules committee met on January 22, 2017 and voted to approve an official interpretation.

    USMS 202.1.1G(1) says that "The conduct of a sanctioned event shall be in strict compliance with applicable USMS swimming rules and administrative regulations…" USMS Rule 102.5 says that "Any event conducted must be offered for all age groups and both genders". In the context of 102.5, we mean "a series of races in a given stroke and distance". Rule 102.3 defines the age groups for individual events and relays starting at 18-24 for individual events, 72-99 for relays (for meets held in 25-meter or 50-meter pools) and 18+ for relays (for meets held in 25-yard pools). The rules do not provide for any exceptions to tailor or restrict the age groups at sanctioned meets.

    Therefore, all events conducted at USMS sanctioned meets must be offered for all of the age groups listed in 102.3. A format that limits or alters the age groups from those listed in 102.3 is not in compliance with USMS rules. Sponsoring organizations who are unable or unwilling to offer each and every event to all USMS age groups (as listed in 102.3) are not in compliance with part one rules, as required for all USMS sanctioned meets.

    The attached memorandum explains more about the rationale, history, and context behind this interpretation.

    Charles Cockrell
    USMS Rules Committee Chair
    Attached Thumbnails Attached Files
  13. Back to the Basics - Breaststroke

    by , February 10th, 2017 at 08:28 PM (Rules Committee Blog)
    In our back to basics series, we are up to breaststroke. Breaststroke is the stroke with the most rules. I think it is also the stroke where the rules have evolved the most in the last couple of decades. When I started swimming summer league at age 8, I got disqualified most every time. But, by the time I was a teenager, I was a breaststroker and have been ever since. Maybe there is some kind of correlation between being an official and swimming the stroke with the most rules?

    Rather than cover everything comprehensively, let's break it down with a Q&A format on the different aspects of the stroke.

    The Stroke Cycle

    A cycle of breaststroke is one stroke and one kick, in that order. The definition of the cycle raises up a couple of frequently asked questions.

    What if a swimmer starts by taking a kick as the first action after a start or after a turn? Since the rules define the cycle as one stroke and one kick, in that order, starting with a kick is not in compliance with the rules. You must start each cycle with a pull.

    Can you swim breaststroke just by pulling and not moving the legs? No, both a stroke and kick is required for each cycle.

    Can you take a pull that is not followed by a kick before a turn or a finish? Yes, by rule, it is permitted to take an incomplete stroke cycle prior to a legal touch before each turn and at the finish.

    Can the head go below the surface of the water? Yes, the only requirement is that the head must break the surface of the water at least once during each complete stroke cycle.

    Can I take two pulls in a row without a kick? No, a cycle is defined as one stroke - only one stroke - and one kick in that order.

    Can I take two kicks in a row without a pull? What part of "A cycle is defined as one stroke and one kick in that order" is not clear?

    The rules say that the body shall be kept "on the breast". This is a trick because the rules use the language "on the breast" but in the glossary we define "on the breast" as "at or past the vertical towards the breast". So, the body and the shoulders do not have to be perfectly aligned, but the arms must move the same horizontal plane. If the officials judge that one arm is substantially lower than the other, then you could be disqualified, but the official should be looking at the arms, not the position of the shoulders.

    Does this mean I can have a shoulder that is slightly dropped during the stroke or at the touch? Yes, as long as the arms move in the same horizontal plane.

    The Underwater Cycle

    The rules say that swimmers are permitted to take one stroke and one kick while completely submerged after the start and after each turn. This is the only time when the hands may go past the hipline.

    Do you have to take an underwater cycle? No, an underwater cycle is permitted, not required.

    When must the head break the surface of the water? The head must break the surface by the time the hands turn inward at the widest part of the second stroke. So, you can take one complete stroke, kick, and then the hands can drift apart, but then the head must break the surface before you start to pull at the second stroke.

    Swimmers are permitted one downward butterfly kick (use it wisely) at any time prior to the first breaststroke kick. Does that mean that the butterfly kick can come before the pull? Yes, or it can come during the first pull. Does that mean that a downward butterfly kick is permitted at the end of the first kick? No, the butterfly kick must be taken before the first breaststroke kick. Do you have to do a butterfly kick? No, it is permitted, not required.

    The Arms

    The rules say that the arms must be pushed forward together from the breast on, under, or over the water. Does this mean that the arms can break the surface of the water? Yes, as long as the arms move together, but the elbows must be kept under the water. The only exception is on the final stroke before the turn or the finish when it is permissible for the elbows to break the surface of the water.

    What if I reach up to adjust my goggles while swimming breaststroke? Since all movements of the arms must be simultaneous and the arms shall be pushed forward together, this action would be an infraction.

    What if I reach up to wave to my friend on deck while swimming breaststroke? Seriously? No, you cannot do that.

    The Legs

    The rules say that all movements of the legs must be simultaneous, in the same horizontal plan, and without alternating movement. The feet must be turned outward during the propulsive part of the kick.

    Can I do a scissor kick? No
    Can I do a butterfly kick? No
    Can I do a flutter or freestyle kick? No. (Are you getting the point here?)

    What if one foot is turned inward and one is turned outward during the kick? That is called a scissor kick - see above.

    Can my feet break the surface of the water? Yes! As long as this action is not followed by a downward butterfly kick.

    Turns and Finishes

    The touch shall be with both hands, simultaneous, and shall be at, above, or below the surface of the water. Once a legal touch has been made, swimmers may turn in any manner desired.

    Does that mean I can do a flip turn? Yes! As long you make a legal touch (two hands, simultaneously) and as long as the body is towards the breast when the feet leave the wall. Between the legal touch and the feet leaving the wall, you can contort your body any way you like.

    Can my head be underwater at the touch? Yes, as long as the head breaks the surface at least one during the last complete or incomplete stroke cycle prior to the touch.

    Are breaststrokers totally awesome for remembering all of these rules and swimming the toughest, most elegant, and unique stroke? Yes, of course, but that is not in the rules.

    Charles Cockrell
    USMS Rules Committee Chair
  14. Back to the Basics - Backstroke

    by , December 27th, 2016 at 01:52 PM (Rules Committee Blog)
    Happy New Year to all and best wishes for a great 2017 winter swim season! This month's blog entry continues our "back to the basics" series with a review of the rules and frequently asked questions involving backstroke.

    The Backstroke Start
    Last month, we summarized the rules for the forward start, but we know that backstroke starts are different. The backstroke start must be performed in the water. During the starting sequence, the familiar short whistles are still used to signal swimmers to remove all clothing except for swimwear and prepare for your event, and the long whistle is the signal to enter the water. Please enter the water in a safe manner - preferably feet first! For backstroke events only, there is a second long whistle which is the signal for swimmers "take their positions on the wall without undue delay". The second long whistle replaces what some swimmers might remember as the "place your feet" command.

    When assuming a starting position, the rules require swimmers to line up in the water facing the starting end of the course with both hands on the starting grips or the gutter. (Sometimes the horizontal bar with the starting grips is too high for some swimmers, so this rule means that it is acceptable to grab the gutter or the end wall if there is no gutter.)

    What about the position of the feet at the start? There is no explicit requirement for the feet to be placed under the surface of the water, but the toes cannot extend over the lip of the gutter and swimmers may not bend the toes over the lip of the gutter, before or immediately following the start. (What if there is no gutter? In "flat wall" pools with no gutters, we interpret this rule to mean that the toes cannot extend over the edge of the pool deck.)

    Upon the "take your mark" command, swimmers may assume any position that does not violate these rules regarding feet, hand, or starting position.

    The Stroke
    The rules say that swimmers must "push off on the back and continue swimming on the back throughout the race". The rules also say that "some part of the swimmer must break the surface of the water throughout the race, except that it shall be permitted for the swimmer to be completely submerged during the turn and for a distance of not more than 15 meters after the start and after each turn". This means that swimmers are permitted to kick underwater (any style of kick) after the start and after each turn, but the head must break the surface of the water within 15 meters.

    Sometimes people ask if different styles of backstroke are permitted. What about "double arm" backstroke or what some of us might have learned as "elementary backstroke" with a breaststroke kick? The rule only requires that a swimmer remain on the back throughout the race (except for the turn), so any stroke or kick variation is permitted as long as swimmers remain on the back.

    Many swimmers swim backstroke with a lot of body rotation. How far can a swimmer rotate along the body axis? In our glossary, we define "on the back" as meaning "at or past the vertical towards the back", so rotating up to 90 degrees is permitted throughout the race. Kicking on the side is permitted off of starts and turns as long as the swimmer does not rotate past the vertical towards the breast.

    The Turn
    The backstroke turn is sometimes complicated to describe. There is a pretty straightforward rule that "some part of the swimmer must touch the wall" upon completion of each length of the race. That means that an "old school" open turn is still permitted with a hand touch (or a head touch - ouch!). The swimmer can turn in any manner desired once a legal touch is made as long as the swimmer is still on the back when the feet leave the wall after the turn.

    What about a backstroke flip turn? Of course, a backstroke flip turn is also legal and commonly used during competition. Swimmers are permitted (not required) to rotate past the vertical towards the breast only during the turn. Once the swimmer has rotated towards the breast, one immediate continuous single arm pull or simultaneous double arm pull may be used to initiate the turn.

    Now here is the important part of the rule that sometimes trips people up: "Once the body has left the position on the back, any kick or arm pull must be part of the continuous turning action". By the time the swimmer has turned and then completed the one permitted arm pull, the swimmer must initiate the turn. Any kicking into the wall or gliding into the wall without initiating the turn is an infraction. Any additional pulling is also an infraction. (This is one area of the rules where there are still some differences between organizations. High School and NCAA rules permit kicking and gliding into the wall.)

    What if I turn over, leaving a position on the back, intending to do a flip turn, but then touch the wall with my hand instead? Since the rules only say that some part of the swimmer must touch the wall, if there was no other independent glide, kick, or arm pull, this action is legal as long as the swimmer touches the wall during the one allowed continuous arm pull. However, if the swimmer takes another arm pull to make it to the wall, that would be an infraction.

    The Finish
    Finally, the rules say that the swimmer must touch the wall while on the back. No turning over or around to look for the wall!

    Many swimmers dive backwards for the finish in an effort to finish hard and reach for the wall. What if this technique results in the swimmer being completely submerged before the finish? Since the rule says that some part of the swimmer must break the surface of the water, it would be an infraction if the official observes that the entire body is underwater. Generally, officials must make this observation while observing the swim before shifting their gaze to observe the touch itself. It needs to be pretty clear that absolutely no part of the body - not even a toe - is breaking the surface of the water. Most swimmers who dive for the wall will have the head, arm, and upper body submerged, but the feet remain above the water surface.

    Charles Cockrell
    USMS Rules Committee Chair
  15. Freestyle Follow Up

    by , November 27th, 2016 at 12:19 PM (Rules Committee Blog)
    A commenter pointed out that I did not cover the 15-meter rule in the description of freestyle rules. That is correct and the 15-meter rule applies to freestyle, backstroke, and butterfly events. Swimmers may be completely submerged up to 15 meters after the start and each turn, at which point some part of the body must break the surface of the water. Swimmers may not be completely submerged after this point. The 15-meter points must be marked on each lane line. As with any disqualification, officials must determine that there was a rule violation beyond any reasonable uncertainty. So, either an official must be stationed at the 15-meter mark to make the call or it must be very clear to an official in another position.

    Also, in our freestyle blog entry, we discussed standing on the bottom of the pool. By rule, standing on the bottom of the pool during freestyle is legal, but not in any other stroke.

    So, here is a question to test our knowledge (careful, it is a trick). During a 200-meter butterfly event, a swimmer makes a legal touch at the turn. After the touch, the swimmer stands on a bottom of the pool for a few seconds to catch his breath. After doing so, the swimmer pushes off of the wall, assuming a legal body position, and starts swimming again. Should the swimmer be disqualified?

    Answer: No. Although the rule says that swimmers may not stand on the bottom of the pool during any other stroke (except for freestyle), this action in this case took place during the turn. The swimmer made a legal touch and can then turn in any manner desired. Because the action took place between the legal touch and leaving the wall with a legal body position, there is no disqualification.
  16. Back to the Basics - The Forward Start

    by , November 27th, 2016 at 12:06 PM (Rules Committee Blog)
    This month, we are going to continue our review of the rules for strokes, starts, turns, and relays. This should provide some information for new members as well as a refresher for us "experienced" competitors. This month focuses on the forward start, which is used in freestyle, breaststroke, and butterfly.

    The starting sequence actually begins well before swimmers even step up onto the starting platform. By rule, the referee uses a series of short whistles to signal to swimmers to "remove all clothing except for swimwear". This is the signal to prepare for your event. Depending on the size and the pace of the meet, the referee may decide when to give the short whistles while the previous race is still finishing. Or, the referee may wait until all swimmers from the preceding heat are finished. In practice, the short whistles are normally followed by an announcement of the event number or heat number to remind swimmers, timers, and other officials of the upcoming race.

    Once the race is ready to proceed, the referee uses one long whistle to signal to swimmers to step up onto the starting platform, up to the edge of the pool deck, or to enter the water. A forward start may be taken from the starting platform, the pool deck, or in the water using a push from the wall. It is the swimmer's choice. If you are starting from the starting platform, at least one foot must be towards the front surface of the platform. (That doesn't mean the foot must be right at the edge of the block, but generally must be in the front part of the platform.)

    If you are starting the water, make sure to enter feet first. When starting in the water using a forward start, swimmers may face any direction. (USA Swimming rules would require swimmers to face the pool, so this is a key difference.) Also, under USMS rules, a backstroke start is permitted in a freestyle event. (However, if you are swimming backstroke - or any other stroke - in a freestyle event, your time may only be recorded as a freestyle time.)

    Once all swimmers are ready, the starter will give the familiar "take your mark" command. This is the signal to assume your starting position. Swimmers may assume any starting position that maintains at least one foot towards the front of the starting platform or the pool deck; or, if starting in the water, swimmers may assume any position that does not remove at least one foot from contact with the all and at least one hand from contact with the wall or the starting platform.

    The rule then says that when are swimmers are "stationary", the starter shall give the starting signal. Note the term "stationary". That doesn't mean swimmers must be completely motionless, but swimmers must remain on their marks and cannot leave this position prior to the starting signal. While there is no rule that requires swimmers to "come down together", all swimmers must respond promptly to the "take your mark" command. If one or more swimmers do not respond quickly, or if everyone is not set, or the starter feels that everyone is not ready, the starter may release swimmers by saying "stand" or "stand up". At this point, swimmers may leave their marks, relax, and even step off of the starting platform. Usually, the starter will simply try again with another "take your mark" command, but may sometimes provide additional instructions to one or more swimmers. If everything goes well, however, the "take your mark" command is followed the starting signal, which must be both audial and visual.

    What happens if you enter the water or start before the starting signal is given? The starter will usually release swimmers with the "stand" command. By rule, a swimmer who commits a false start is disqualified, but the disqualification must be confirmed by both the referee and starter. Sometimes, one of these officials will decide that the start was not fair or there was some other factor that caused the swimmer to start before the signal. In that case, the swimmer might not be charged with a false start and we can try again to start the race.

    If a swimmer leaves their mark before the starting signal, but the signal is given anyway, the race is allowed to proceed and the swimmer could be disqualified for a false start after the race is over. The starter will not "recall" a race in the event of a false start, but could still recall a race if the start was not fair. While recalls should be rare, if you hear the starting signal repeated (likely several times), that is the recall signal.

    Other things that you can do to ensure a good start:

    • Keep track of the meet! Events can run ahead of or behind a projected timeline and officials are under no obligation to wait if the meet is running faster than projected. If you miss an event, officials are not obligated to seed you into another heat and will not conduct a re-swim.
    • Check with the timers in your lane before your race to verify that you are in the correct heat and lane. Let one of the officials know if there is a discrepancy.
    • If you need a little more time or need assistance to step up or enter the water, let the officials know ahead of time. Sometimes, it may be possible to allow swimmers to use a ladder to enter the water from the side of pool, but make sure the officials know your intent and have provided their approval.
    • Step up (or in) promptly at the long whistle signal. If you delay, or stand back behind the blocks where you are not visible, the referee and starter may assume that you have withdrawn from the race.
    • Deaf or hearing-impaired swimmers should inform the starter. Make sure you can see the starter (who will use hand signals in addition to the whistle commands) and the visual starting signal (normally a light on top of the starting system).
  17. Back to the Basics

    by , October 30th, 2016 at 12:02 PM (Rules Committee Blog)
    After a year of answering questions and doing regular blog posts, I received a recent question about a rule that I thought was well understood and had not changed in some time. This was a reminder to me that we have new swimmers entering our ranks all of the time and sometimes we all need a refresher, even for rules that we think are well understood. So, we'll call these next few entries our "back to the basics" series!

    Let's start by reviewing some of the basic rules that apply all races and specifically to freestyle.

    • Swimmers must start and finish in the same lane. Yes, you read it right, the rules do not say that a swimmer must remain in the lane throughout the race. However, swimmers may be disqualified for interfering with another swimmer. Also, this rules does not necessarily mean that a swimmer who swims in the wrong lane must be disqualified. But, if you find that this happens to you, please notify the officials!

    • Leaving the pool before finishing a race means that you will be disqualified.

    • Standing on the bottom of the pool does not disqualify a swimmer in a freestyle event, but it does in any other stroke event. The swimmer must not walk or spring from the bottom in any event.

    • Touching the lane line is not illegal, but grasping the lane line or the side wall to assist forward motion (in other words, pulling on the lane line), is illegal. (It also drives coaches crazy during workouts!)

    • A forward start or a backstroke start can be used in freestyle events. (This is a difference between USMS and USA Swimming rules. In USA Swimming, only the forward start may be used.)

    • During freestyle events, swimmers must touch the wall (or end of the course) after each turn and at the finish. That's it! There are really no other rules for freestyle. Swimmers may pull, kick, and execute turns in any manner they desire. (An exception is the freestyle leg of an Individual Medley or Medley Relay. We'll cover that in a later entry.)

    Now, here is quick question to test your thinking: During a 500-yard freestyle event, a swimmer misses the wall completely at the 400-yard mark and the missed touch is noted by officials. After the swimmer finishes at the 500-yard mark, the swimmer's coach yells "Swim another 50". If the swimmer swims another 50 before leaving the pool, should the swimmer still be disqualified?

    Answer: Yes. The swimmer must touch the wall at the end of each length. If the swimmer had missed the wall, he could return and touch the wall without being disqualified. However, once the swimmer has completed the next length, the opportunity to return to the wall and make a legal touch is gone. Congratulations on having a very clever coach, however.

    How about the following situation? A swimmer finishes (or so he thinks) a 1650-yard freestyle. While hanging out in the pool, the timing system operator tries to get the attention of the officials and tell them that the swimmer only completed 1600 yards. It seems that the swimmer's lap counter made an error. The referees agrees and tries to inform the swimmer, but before the referee can make it over to the swimmer, he exits the pool. Can the swimmer get back in the pool and swim another 50?

    Answer: No. First, by rule, it is the swimmers responsibility to complete the required distance. Lap counters are there to assist, and officials are responsible for verifying completion, but the swimmer must complete the distance. The fact that the lap counter made an error doesn't provide any relief. (Lesson: Pick someone reliable to count for you!) If the officials had informed the swimmer before he left the pool, he could swim another 50 and complete the event legally, even if he was standing on the bottom of the pool, hanging on the lane line, or hanging onto the end wall in the interim. However, once the swimmer leaves the pool, he is disqualified.

    Question: A swimmer enters a 200-yard freestyle event, but decides to swim backstroke, even doing a backstroke start. Is this legal?

    Answer: Yes, it is legal to swim any style in a freestyle event. However, your official time in a freestyle counts only for freestyle. The swimmer in this example cannot set a record, earn top 10 recognition, or use the time for any other official purpose as a 200-yard backstroke time. Regardless of the stroke swum, it only counts as a 200 freestyle time.

    Charles Cockrell
    USMS Rules Committee Chair

  18. Major Changes for 2017

    by , October 29th, 2016 at 03:59 PM (Rules Committee Blog)
    Several rules were changed by the House of Delegates during the USMS Annual Meeting in Atlanta in September. Here is a summary of the major changes that will take effect on January 1, 2017.

    Continuous Warm-Up: In pools of five lanes or more, a separate warm-up area must be made available to swimmers during the competition. However, if the meet is a dual-sanctioned meet with USA Swimming, this requirement may be adjusted depending on availability of warm-up space at the venue by agreement between the LMSC and LSC host clubs. If a continuous warm-up/warm-down lane(s) or area is not available in pools of five lanes or more, the entry information shall clearly state the availability of warm-up for USMS athletes. Once the entry information is published, changes which further restrict the availability of continuous warm-up/warm-down space are not permitted.

    Events: The order of events must be published in the meet announcement prior to the meet. Events may be repeated with the same stroke and distance as different event numbers at a meet.

    Alternative Formats: All short course meters events, long course meters events, and national championships shall be conducted on a timed-finals basis. Other short course yards events may be conducted on a timed-finals basis or another basis (e.g., preliminary heats and finals).

    Time Trials: Independent attempts to establish official times (“time trials”) are permitted only in USMS-sanctioned short course yards meets other than national championship meets. Time trials are not permitted in USMS national championship meets, short course meters, or long course meters meets. If time trials are offered, the meet announcement must state the events being offered and the format for the time trials.

    Event Limits: A swimmer may compete in not more than six individual events per day. A swimmer shall not compete more than once in the same numbered individual event. Any nonconforming events swum shall be included in the daily event limit. If events are conducted in formats other than timed finals that require multiple swims (e.g., preliminary heats and finals), the limit is three events per day. For events that require multiple swims (e.g., preliminary heats and finals), all swims (e.g., preliminary heats) are considered as part of the same individual event, not as multiple individual events. If time trials are offered in short course yards meets, any time trial events swum shall be included in the daily event limit. A swimmer may repeat, as a time trial, an individual event already swum during the meet on the same day or in the same meet.

    Place Judges: One or two place judges may be positioned on the side of the course near the finish to judge the order of finish of all swimmers. Judging may not be used to change the results produced by ranking the official times.

    Official Time for Malfunction on a Lane: Timing system adjustments to backup times for individual lane malfunctions have been eliminated. In the event of a lane malfunction, the official time is calculated using valid times reported by the secondary timing system (or the tertiary system) in accordance with 103.17.3B and integrated with the accurate primary times in determining the results.

    Requirements for USMS Records and Top 10 Times: USMS records and top 10 times may be established with a three, two, or one valid semiautomatic backup time in the event of an automatic timing system (touchpad) failure. USMS records may be established with two valid watch times in the event of both automatic primary and semiautomatic backup system failure. USMS top 10 times may be established with one valid watch time in the event of both automatic primary and semiautomatic backup system failure. USMS records may be established with two valid watches if the semiautomatic primary timing system fails. USMS Top 10 times may be established with one valid watch if the semiautomatic primary timing system fails.

    Splits: The referee may assign additional watch timers to record splits for USMS top 10 times regardless of the primary timing system. The referee may approve automatic recording of splits, with the concurrence of the meet host, without the need for a written request with the exception of backstroke events or initial splits within a backstroke leadoff distance.

    Fresh Water: USMS records and top 10 times can only be made in fresh water. No records or top 10 times will be recognized in any kind of sea or ocean water.

    Health and Safety Regulations for USMS Competition: Article 106 (medical examinations, medical equipment) is eliminated.

    Age Determining Date for Open Water and Postal Swims: “In open water and postal swims, the eligibility of a swimmer shall be determined by the age of the swimmer on December 31 of the year of competition, except for 18-year-olds, who must be 18 on the day that they swim.” This mirrors the birthdate rule used by FINA and USA-Triathlon. The relay age rules for open water and long distance/postal swims (303.1.3B & 305.6) remain unchanged.

    Water Conditions: Temperature guidelines have been amended for swimmer safety in swims with very warm water. “A swim of 5 kilometers or greater shall not begin if the water temperature exceeds 29.45° C. (85° F.). A swim of less than 5 kilometers shall not begin if the water temperature exceeds 31° C. (87.8° F.).” This mirrors the FINA general standard of 31° C, and the USA-Swimming exception to that rule of 29.45° C for swims 5-km or longer.

    Swimwear: For Category I open water swimwear, clasps and zippers are now excluded. This mirrors the FINA swimwear rule, and will make it easier for event staff to identify legal swimwear at each venue.

    Officials: The roles and authorities of open water event director, safety director and referee have been defined, particularly the authority to postpone the start, stop a swim in progress, and cancel an event.

    Independent Safety Monitors: The requirement to have a USMS-approved Independent Safety Monitor at all USMS open water swims has been removed. In its place, as part of event supervision, each sanctioning LMSC should develop oversight procedures to assure that the approved safety plan is implemented and that adequate safety precautions are in place for existing conditions.

    Solo Open Water Swims: Because USMS no longer sanctions solo swims, all reference to solo swims have been removed from the rulebook.

    1-Hour ePostal (OHeP): The Long Distance Committee is extending the closing date for the 2017 and future OHeP events to be the last day of February. This will give more people a chance to swim and minimize the impact of major winter weather.
  19. Changes in Meet Programs

    by , September 11th, 2016 at 12:43 PM (Rules Committee Blog)
    Under what circumstances can the events offered, order of events, starting times, or other entry provisions be changed prior to a USMS sanctioned meet?

    Occasionally, meet directors ask if it is acceptable to make a change to one of the entry provisions or details of a meet after the information has been published. Rule 102.11 governs change of program and postponement of events and meets. In 102.11, we say that the order of events, as stated in the meet announcement, shall not be changed. The announced arrangement of heats (for example, the announcement may state that heats will be pre-seed and swum slowest to fastest by time only) shall be changed. The only exception is that heats may be combined at the referee's discretion.

    But, what constitutes publishing the meet announcement? Before the widespread use of websites and electronic entries, this might have meant mailing a newsletter to registered members in an LMSC. Since most swimmers now get their information through electronic mail or other digital media, it might be possible to make small changes and re-publish the information.

    Clearly the intent of the rules is to ensure that swimmers are not surprised by changes to the program after they have made a decision to attend a meet and which events to enter. So, we have to apply some judgement and consider the specific questions involved.

    Consider the following situations:

    • There is an upcoming USMS sanctioned meet in which the meet director wants to add a 1650 Free and an 800 Free Relay in the middle of a meet. Doing so would cause about an hour delay in the projected timeline, so the 200 Freestyle will be deleted from the program. The meet director wants to make this change one week before the meet when most swimmers have already entered and the entry deadline is less than 24 hours away.

    • The is an upcoming USMS sanctioned meet in which the meet director wants to add a mixed 400 medley relay as the last event of the day. The entry information was already published on the website, but the meet is three months away and no swimmers have entered at this point.

    Case #1 is clearly unacceptable. It would cause a major impact to the meet and, had this program been published earlier, many swimmers may have made different choices regarding which events to swim. Since entries are about to close, it would be unfair to make such a change so late in the process, even if all swimmers were notified. Rule 102.11 prohibits this type of change.

    However, in case #2, it might be possible to make this small change and then "publish" the information again if electronic media is the primary means for publishing information. If it is feasible to notify swimmers of the change and they still have time to make plans well before the entry deadline, such a change might still be within the intent of 102.11.

    The best approach would be to contact the national office (since a change might require a re-issuing of the sanction) and the rules committee chair and we can provide guidance on how to proceed.

    Rule 102.11 also governs changes in starting times and other provisions with some further restrictions. Let's take the following two examples:

    • Just prior to the close of entries, the meet host discovers that the projected timeline of the meet is much longer than anticipated. The meet host has negotiated with the facility to end before a specific time due to another event scheduled later in the day and the only way to conduct the entire meet is to start an hour earlier.

    • The pool manager calls the meet director in a panic two days before a scheduled meet and says that there is unexpected maintenance issue and the pool is to be shut down indefinitely. There is another venue a few miles away willing to accommodate the meet, but only if the meet can be moved from Saturday to Sunday.

    Talk about pressure! Obviously, decisions to make significant changes are not taken lightly, but there might sometimes be unavoidable circumstances. Both of these examples might have a significant impact on attendance and the success if the meet.

    Rule 102.11.3 says that "the entry provisions and starting time of any event, meet, or portion thereof shall stand as stated in the meet announcement and may not be changed to an earlier time or date unless written notice if such change is delivered to all affected swimmers and their coaches". Electronic notice must be sent no later than the entry deadline or, if mailed, must be postmarked prior to the entry deadline.

    So, in the first example, the change can be made, but each and every swimmer must be notified prior to the entry deadline.

    What happens if the first case occurs after the entry deadline? 102.11.3 goes on to say that "if lack of time prohibits mail notification, all affected swimmers must voluntarily agree in writing that they have been notified and are in accord with such change. Affected swimmers or coaches may file a written protest with the referee prior to the running of the event or the meet if they do not agree such change in time or date." So, the change could still be made, but all swimmers must be notified and agree to the change. Obviously, if swimmers do not agree, then the meet host is faced with a decision to either proceed and invite protest(s) or find some compromise solution to make the best of the situation.

    In the second example, since the starting time is being changed to a later time, it can still be made, but all swimmers need to be notified of the change. Rule 102.11.4 says that the meet committee can make a decision to postpone or cancel a meet if severe weather or other conditions preclude the possibility of safely or effectively conducting the meet. So, postponement for a valid reason is OK, but what happens if the meet host needs to move the meet from Sunday to Saturday to accommodate the change of venue? In that case, all swimmers must be notified and agree in writing to change. If all swimmers do not agree, then meet director must decide whether to cancel the meet or implement some compromise solution, such as offering a refund of entry fees to swimmers who cannot agree to change.

    In the case of significant circumstances, meet directors may contact us and we will do our best to provide guidance to meet hosts to assist in making decisions.

    And, now we see why meet directors have a lot of gray hair!
  20. Amending the Rules of Competition

    by , August 11th, 2016 at 12:05 PM (Rules Committee Blog)
    One of the unique things about masters swimming is that the athletes themselves get to make the rules. Considering changes to our competitive rules is an annual process. Ultimately any change to the rules of competition must be approved by the USMS House of Delegates which meets at our annual convention in September. After months of work by the Rules Committee, the proposed 2016 changes are now ready for review by convention delegates.

    The USMS Rules Committee collects, studies, recommends proposed changes to the membership of USMS. Our goal is to ensure that the rules are fair, equitable, clear, and reflect the objectives and values of our membership. The Rules Committee is responsible for the glossary and part one of the USMS rule book, which governs all sanctioned and recognized pool meets. (The Long Distance and Legislation Committees have similar processes for other sections of the rule book.)

    You can now see all of the proposed changes on the convention information page.

    Sometimes we identify an issue that needs extensive study and a subset of the committee will work on these issues throughout the year to bring forward proposed changes by late Spring. This year, a task force studied proposed changes to the rules that involve timing system corrections for official times, USMS records, and top 10 times. The process of determining official times for different types of timing systems can get pretty complicated. (See our blog post from December 28, 2015 for an explanation of current rules.) However, the current rules are no longer consistent with FINA rules. That is a potential problem for recognition of world records and FINA world top 10 times. After several years of extensive study, USA Swimming modified their rules for timing system adjustments in 2016 and other organizations have followed suit. We took another year to study the changes and think through all of the procedures necessary to recognize official times and records. The proposed changes attempt to balance the sometimes competing goals of protecting swimmers from timing system failures, ensuring the accuracy of official times reported at meets, and ensuring that requirements placed on our meet officials are reasonable.

    Sometimes our proposed changes might arise from frequent questions about a rule, which might signal that we need greater clarity. We might propose a change based on ideas and questions from coaches, officials, meet directors, and LMSC officers. Over the years, we have received many questions regarding meet formats, time trials, acceptance of times from recognized meets. So, several proposed changes attempt to make these provisions clearer for coaches, officials, and swimmers.

    Sometimes, it is a matter of bringing the rules up to date with new technology or better practices for conducting meets. Over the years, we have dealt with rule changes involving electronic timing systems, online entries, backstroke ledges, overhead cameras, and other new innovations. This year, proposed changes to update the rules for automatic splits, eliminating written applications for USMS records at National Championships, and eliminating the written publication of USMS records in the rule book are a reflection of technologies that make it easier to run meets, tabulate the results, and publish results using electronic systems.

    Additional changes can be proposed by any USMS standing committee, any Local Masters Swim Committee (LMSC), the USMS Board of Directors, or the USMS Executive Committee. These proposals can range from simple grammatical corrections to innovative ideas to make the sport more exciting and attract new members. Several changes to rules governing national championships and USMS records are being proposed this year.

    Prior to consideration by the House of Delegates, the Rules Committee considers each proposal and may make amendments before voting whether to recommend the change to the House of Delegates. The House may also amend any proposal before voting and may adopt any change recommended favorably by the committee with a majority vote. The House may still adopt a proposed change not recommended by the committee with a 2/3 majority vote. So, the final set of changes that appear in the 2017 rule book may be different than what you see in the convention package.

    While the deadline for proposing changes to the rules has passed for this year, you can still voice your opinion by contacting the delegates from your LMSC before the September convention.
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