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Questions about rules? Search the tag cloud to the right to find previous entries that might answer your question. Feel free to post questions via the comments tool in each post, or contact rules@usms.org.

  1. Butterfly Stroke Disqualifications

    by , July 4th, 2017 at 04:12 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.
  2. Swimwear in Training and Competition

    by , June 4th, 2017 at 11:41 AM (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.
    http://www.fina.org/content/fina-approved-swimwear

    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.
  3. Use of Equipment in USMS Meets

    by , April 30th, 2017 at 12:16 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.
  4. Interpretation of Age Group Rules

    by , February 10th, 2017 at 07:33 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
  5. Back to the Basics - Breaststroke

    by , February 10th, 2017 at 07:28 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
  6. Back to the Basics - Backstroke

    by , December 27th, 2016 at 12:52 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
  7. Freestyle Follow Up

    by , November 27th, 2016 at 11:19 AM (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.
  8. Back to the Basics - The Forward Start

    by , November 27th, 2016 at 11:06 AM (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).
  9. Back to the Basics

    by , October 30th, 2016 at 11:02 AM (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

  10. Major Changes for 2017

    by , October 29th, 2016 at 02:59 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.
  11. Changes in Meet Programs

    by , September 11th, 2016 at 11:43 AM (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!
  12. Amending the Rules of Competition

    by , August 11th, 2016 at 11:05 AM (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.
    Attached Thumbnails Attached Files
  13. Dual-Sanctioned Meets with USA Swimming

    by , July 10th, 2016 at 11:52 AM (Rules Committee Blog)
    Several questions have been asked recently about dual-sanctioned meets with USA-Swimming. The dual-sanction option is a great tool to provide additional opportunities for masters swimming to compete, while sharing pool space, expenses, officials, and other volunteers.

    Appendix B in the USMS describes the possible formats that may be used for dual-sanctioned meets. The agreement between USMS and USA-Swimming describes three types of formats that may be used.


    • Parallel meets describe a format where two meets are essentially swum in parallel at the same time. In each event offered, the meet host might designate some lanes for USA-Swimming athletes and some for USMS athletes and the swimmers would compete together in the same heats. However, each organization's rules would apply to their members, so separate stroke and turn officials are recommended. The makeup of USMS heats may be adjusted so the seed times are approximately the same at the USA-Swimming athletes in each heat.



    • Interwoven meets describe a format where USA-Swimming and USMS athletes compete in separate heats. The meet host might decide to run separate sessions for each organization's athletes, alternate events, or alternate heats. Each organization's rules apply to their members, so stroke and turn officials would judge each heat according the rules of the sanctioning organization.



    • Combined meets mean that all swimmers swim together in the same heats without any specific designation of lanes. In this case, all athletes would compete under USA Swimming rules.


    The phrase “competing according to USA-Swimming rules” is interpreted to mean that USMS articles 101, 102, 103, 107, and 108 are replaced by the corresponding articles of the current USA Swimming Rules and Regulations, except that the following USMS articles shall apply in all circumstances: 102.1 (eligibility), 102.2 (age determining date), 102.3 (age groups), 102.5 (events), 102.6 (event limit), 102.7 (entries), 102.9 (relays), 102.11 (change of program and postponement), and 102.14 (protests).

    During combined meets, the application of USMS rule 102.4, which requires a continuous warm-up area at USMS sanctioned meets, can be adjusted depending on the availability of warm-space at the venue by agreement between the host clubs. If a continuous warm-up/warm-down lane or area is not available, the entry information must 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.

    The requirements for USMS records and Top 10 times in 105.1 and requirements for USMS record applications in 105.3.8 must be followed at dual-sanctioned meets per the agreement. A liability release (204.1) is also required for all USMS members in USMS sanctioned events, including dual-sanctioned meets.

    For dual-sanctioned meets that follow a parallel (specific lanes allocated to each organization) or an interwoven (separate heats for each organization) format, the agreement specifies that each organization’s rules must apply to their members. In these cases, all articles of USMS part one apply to the USMS competition without exception. So, continuous warm-up space is required for USMS athletes in these meets in pools of five lanes or more.

    In a dual-sanctioned meet, swimmers must compete as a member of one organization or the other for the entire meet. While there are many athletes who are members of both organizations, this arrangement does not permit swimmers to represent both in a single meet. If a USMS member competes as a USA-Swimming athlete, automatic recognition of the USA-Swimming portion of the meet still applies, and USMS members may submit times that they swim in USA-Swimming meets for USMS records and top 10 recognition.

    Please note that the 2016 USA-Swimming rule book contains an older version of the guidelines! We have made that correction, but not all LSC Officials may have the correct version. Appendix B of the USMS rule book is the most up-to-date version of the guidelines. Under the current guidelines, there is no need to provide separate warm-up space for USMS and USA-Swimming athletes, but host organizations may still do so as local option.
  14. Therapeutic Elastic Tape in Competition

    by , June 5th, 2016 at 01:16 PM (Rules Committee Blog)
    Modern medical technology has created some fantastic products for adult athletes to use in dealing with injuries and the natural issues associated with aging bodies. However, with the growing use of these technologies, we have to consider questions about their use in competition. As always, our goal is to have a fair and equitable application of the rules that facilitate participation in competition. The rules are written to limit the use of items that provide for a competitive advantage.



    We have received many questions regarding the use of therapeutic elastic tape. While the use of the products may prove to be of great use for some swimmers recovering from injuries or in training, the use of many of these products creates a competitive advantage and are therefore not permitted in USMS competition.

    The current swimsuit rules date to 2009 and the premise of the rules are that substances which provide additional muscle compression; or anything that enhances speed, pace, or buoyancy are not permitted.

    USMS rule 102.12.1-E (governing pool events) says that “Any kind of tape worn on the body is not permitted unless approved by the referee”. USMS rule 303.7.3-C (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”



    Per USMS Article 507.1.13, the Rules Committee issues interpretations of Part One rules. Per USMS Article 507.1.7, the USMS Long Distance Committee oversees the rules and administration of long distance and open water events (Part Three).

    Therefore, to provide clearer guidance for officials, the following interpretation is issued jointly by the USMS Rules Committee and USMS Long Distance Committee.

    “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, 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.”


    Examples of such products include Kinesio® Tape, KT Tape, Kinesiology Tape, Cho-Pat® and Spider Tech. But, there may very well be additional products and brands.

    Even in the case of disability accommodations or medical exceptions to the swimwear rules, we would not grant an exception that creates a competitive advantage. While these are considered on a case-by-case basis, this interpretation will remain the guiding principle. USMS is consistent with USA-Swimming in our interpretation regarding the use of these products.

    If you have questions on the use of a specific product, please direct those questions to the Meet or Race Referee, the Rules Committee Chair (rules@usms.org) for pool events, and the Open Water Committee Chair (openwater@usms.org) for open water events.

    Charles Cockrell
    USMS Rules Committee Chair

  15. Disqualifications and Protests

    by , May 2nd, 2016 at 07:48 PM (Rules Committee Blog)
    A natural outcome of competition is that sometimes coaches and swimmers may disagree with decisions of officials. What provisions are in place to appeal or protest a disqualification or other decisions?

    Can I protest my disqualification?
    By rule, protests of judgements made by stroke, turn, and relay take-off judges may only be considered by the referee and those decisions are final (102.14.3). The rationale for this rule is that it is not very practical to overturn a call made on deck by the officials. Our system relies on human observation on deck by officials with review and approval by chief judges (for larger meets) and deck referees. This process is designed to ensure that swimmers are afforded the benefit of the doubt and lead officials can confirm that a good observation has been made by an official in the proper jurisdiction and we have a rule basis for the infraction. It would be impossible to second-guess these judgements after the fact.

    Protests concerning interpretations of the rules in part one shall be submitted in writing to the Rules Committee Chair within 10 days. (102.14.4) This is not a question about the observation, but rather asks if we got the rule correct. Before considering this route, make sure to get an explanation from the officials at the meet, preferably in writing. Most officials are glad to offer an explanation of the decision and the rule basis. If you have received an explanation, reviewed the rules (the rule book is available online), and still feel that there was an incorrect interpretation of the rules, consider asking a coach, club representative, or an LMSC representative for help in submitting a protest. A little homework will make for a more productive discussion!

    Any other protest arising from the competition itself shall be made within 30 minutes after the race in which the alleged infraction took place. If the protest is not resolved, the protester shall at that time file a written protest with the chair of the LMSC or the chair's representative having jurisdiction over the event. (102.14.4)

    My friend has a video on his or her cell phone. Can I send that to someone for review?

    Unfortunately, we do not look at video replays of races. We do get asked this question often, but understand that we cannot be assured that any video would at the same perspective of the officials on deck. What might look clear to someone standing at another position on deck or in the stands may look completely different to an official in the proper jurisdiction. Referees take great care to define positions and jurisdictions to ensure that each official has the correct viewpoint for specific infractions. This process necessarily relies on human observation and judgement.

    The rules do have a provision for video replay, but this provision was only recently inserted following advances within FINA and USA Swimming. Our sport has only recently begun to implement video review for elite meets, such as the Olympics, World Championships, and USA Swimming Senior Nationals. These video systems require underwater and on-deck cameras at several different angles and perspectives in order to be complete and to provide appropriate procedures for review. To date, we have not approved any such use in USMS. Technology may perhaps move us in that direction someday, but most likely we would only use official video cameras operated and reviewed by meet officials, not videos provided by swimmers, coaches, or spectators.

    It is understandable that, as athletes, we might disappointed in decisions by officials and outcomes from competitive events. We rely on experienced and dedicated officials who are committed to a fair and equitable application of rules. They are trained to spot legitimate infractions and scrutinize potential calls for compliance with the rules. Many calls are overturned by referees because there was a question about the observation, jurisdiction, or rules basis without swimmers ever knowing about it.

    If you have a question about a disqualification, the best advice is to ask the officials for an explanation, be informed about the rules, and work with your club or LMSC representatives if you still have questions. Our goal is to make completion fair, equitable, and enjoyable for everyone who participates.
  16. In-the-water Relay Exchanges

    by , April 3rd, 2016 at 06:00 PM (Rules Committee Blog)
    In-the-water relay exchanges are more common in masters meets than other federations. The rules for relay exchanges include some key differences between USA Swimming and USMS. With championship season upon us, it is a good idea to review the rules for relays that involve in-water starts.

    Question: For relay in-water starts, the rulebook says the relay is disqualified if a swimmer loses touch with the wall before the preceding teammate touches. Does this mean that USMS does not allow the swimmer in default to go back and touch the wall after the incoming swimmer touches the wall?

    Answer: If the swimmer starting in the water loses touch prior to the exchange, but corrects their position prior the incoming swimmer making the touch, this should not constitute an early take-off.

    Per rule 101.7.3-F, if the swimmer loses contact with the wall and then the incoming swimmer touches the wall, the relay team shall be disqualified. While USA Swimming has specific wording that would allow the swimmer in default to correct their position after the touch, USMS does not have the corresponding wording. This is a key difference between USAS and USMS rules noted in the summary of rules differences in the appendix of the rule book.

    Question: For in-water starts, it looks like USMS requires the swimmer to have one hand and one foot in contact with wall for individual events and the relay lead-off swimmer. USAS rules only say one hand. What about the 2nd, 3rd and 4th swimmers on relays with in-water starts?

    Answer: The foot contact requirement is listed in the forward start rule in 101.1.2 and in the start commands in 103.8.5. We don't explicitly list this requirement in 101.7.3, however in 101.7.3-F, we say that the team of a swimmer whose feet have lost contact with the starting platform (ground, deck, or wall).....should be disqualified. Therefore, all relay swimmers starting in the water must have at least one foot in contact with the wall prior to the exchange, not just the lead off swimmer.

    Furthermore, since the rule references the feet losing contact with the wall, the officials should look at the touch of the incoming swimmer and the feet of the outgoing swimmer. The outgoing swimmer could be in motion or remove a hand from the wall, but the feet cannot lose contact with the wall prior to the incoming swimmer touching the wall.

    Question: USMS rules say that for freestyle events, the start can be forward or in-water backstroke starts. Just to make sure I have this right, that would also mean for a freestyle relay event, any of the relay swimmers could do an in-water backstroke start, correct?

    Answer: There is no rule which would prohibit use of backstroke start during a freestyle relay exchange.
  17. Time Trials

    by , February 28th, 2016 at 12:57 PM (Rules Committee Blog)
    From time to time, we get asked if "time trials" are allowed at USMS sanctioned meets.

    Most people would consider a "time trial" to be something like an independent swim conducted at a meet or independent from a meet based upon an individual swimmer's request. Using this definition, the answer is no. Such independent attempts to establish official times are not permitted at USMS sanctioned meets. However, one of the difficulties in answering this question clearly is that we do not define the term "time trial" in the USMS rule book and people may have different ideas of what constitutes a time trial.

    The term "event" is defined in the USMS rule book, so we can talk about types of events, order of events, restrictions on entry limitations, and meet format. That will answer most of the questions regarding types of events that may be offered at USMS sanctioned meets. Many people may be surprised to discover that the rules actually provide a lot of flexibility to offer different and creative meet formats to serve the needs of masters swimmers, clubs, and LMSCs across the country.


    That rules say that….


    • You must have a published order of events in the entry information.
    • Events must be offered to all ages and both genders at any meet in which they are offered.
    • A swimmer may swim the same individual event only one time during a meet.
    • Individual swimmers are subject to the entry limitations stated in the entry information and USMS rules.
    • You cannot change the order of events or add additional events after publishing the entry information unless certain conditions are met.
    • Closed competition is permitted, so a sanctioned meet does not have to be open to all members of USMS.
    • Not all events defined in article 102 must be offered. (These are the "conforming" events for which we compile Top 10 rankings and keep USMS records.) A meet host may offer a subset of those events and may even offer nonconforming events subject to approval of the sanctioning LMSC.


    So, what about the following hypothetical situations?

    Could a meet host run a sanctioned meet offering only one event and have the meet open to only members of one club? Yes, as long as that one event is offered to both genders and all age groups. There are many examples of meets that only consist of a 1650 Free, for example, but there is no rule that wouldn't allow it to be any other event.

    Could a meet host run a sanctioned meet and offer the same event at multiple times (such as morning and afternoon, or Saturday and Sunday)? Yes, but an individual swimmer may only swim the event one time in a single meet and the results from all of the heats from the same event must be integrated and published as a single event in the results. (Compiling the results from all of the timed heats in a single event is the definition of "timed finals".)

    Could a meet host run an order of events and then offer to repeat the same order of events for people who want to swim an event later in the session or next day? Yes if that is published in the entry information.

    Could a meet host offer various creative event orders such as.....

    • The first three events will be all of the 200 yard non-freestyle stroke events. Swimmers may select only one event to swim and the events may be seeded together at the discretion of the referee. Yes, this type of order and meet format would be permitted.



    • The 100 Freestyle will be repeatedly offered between every other event in the meet. You can pick only one slot to swim this event. Yes, there is nothing in the rules to prohibit this type of format.



    • A "50 Choice" will be offered at the end of the meet for anyone who wants to swim another 50-yard event. No, because "choice" is not a defined stroke and distance in the USMS rules. But, you could say that all 50-yard stroke events will be offered again at the end of the meet for anyone that would like to swim another event. The restriction is that swimmers may not repeat an event that has already been swum.


    Any of the above situations might look like a "time trial" to some people because they provide flexibility for swimmers to choose when they want to swim a specific event and could maybe even be constructed to accommodate specific swimmers who want a chance to swim a specific event at a time of their choosing.

    The rules cover each of the above situations, but not necessarily as "time trials". The justification is the definition of an event and the rules that require publishing the order of events, conduct of events as "timed finals", and restrictions on how many times you can swim an event within a meet. As long as the sanctioning LMSC approves the meet format and entry information, these types of creative formats are permitted.

    Could the host run a meet with a random order of events? Just show up, tell us what you want to swim, and we will run it for you? No, because you don't have a published order of events and the same events might not be offered to both genders and all age groups.

    Can the host repeat random events at the end of the meet/session at the request of individual swimmers, maybe offering this option to swimmers who didn't want to swim back-to-back events or showed up late? No, because events cannot be added after the order of events has been published.

    Can a swimmer ask to repeat an individual event in which he or she seeks a better time or wants to establish a record? No, because additional events may not be added and a swimmer may not repeat an event.

    The preceding three situations may also look like "time trials" but they don't conform to the other rules regarding order of events and entry limitations, so that is why they are not permitted.

    But, the rules actually allow for even more flexibility in short course yards (SCY) meets.

    In USMS rules 102.6 and 102.10.1, we use the term "trials/finals" to describe meet formats that be used other than "timed finals". The term "trials/finals" is always used together, so this language should not be interpreted as meaning "time trials".

    The language in 102.6 and 102.10.1 dates back several years and is intended to cover different ways of contesting individual events, which is permitted only in short course yards (SCY) meets. Normally, masters events are conducted as timed finals, but another common format (used in USA-Swimming championship meets) is to conduct preliminary heats and finals. The top swimmers from the preliminary heats advance to the finals and places are then determined from times swum in the finals. (Back in the day, the word "trial" was often used as a substitute for preliminaries or "prelims".)

    If a meet is conducted with preliminary heats and finals, why doesn't it violate the restriction on repeating an event if a swimmer swims the same stroke and distance in the preliminaries and then again in the finals? And, why can't this alternate format be used to justify including time trials in SCY meets?

    Because when preliminary heats are used, that process is considered part of the overall process of determining the results for a single event. Swimming the same stroke and distance in a preliminary heat and then in a final heat does not constitute repeating the same event. It is just a different way (contrasted to timed finals) of determining the overall places for a single event. This is not the same as a time trial, which is an independent attempt to establish another official time.

    So, now to test your thinking, what about the following creative hypothetical formats for a SCY meet?

    The entry information says: "After the conclusion of all of the events listed in the program, each swimmer will be provided an opportunity to re-swim any event. Events will be repeated in the same order, but may be combined at the discretion of the referee. The faster of the two times swum will be used to determine the final places for each event".

    OK, that must be illegal, right? Because you cannot add events and a swimmer cannot repeat an event. But, in this hypothetical scenario, the repeat swim is actually part of the same event. It is not a time trial and it is not another added event. The format defines it as another way of contesting the event and that is allowed. And, just like the scenario of swimming the same stroke and distance in the preliminaries and finals, both swims may be used for official purposes.

    What about this one? "The 100 IM will be open to the first 8 entries and swum in an elimination format. After each race, the slowest swimmer will be eliminated and the remaining swimmers will advance to the next round. The places will be determined by the order of elimination."

    OK now, that really must be illegal, right? The winner would end up swimming the same event seven times! Again, because it defines a different way of contesting the event and determining the places, it is actually legal (albeit maybe insane). Swimming the same stroke and distance multiple times is not repeating the event in this scenario because each swim is part of the overall process for determining the rankings in a single event.

    So, are time trials allowed? No, not using the most commonly accepted definition. But it is all in the way you define the order of events and the format for determining the results. For SCY meets, there is more flexibility than most people realize!
  18. How many events can I swim?

    by , January 27th, 2016 at 08:02 PM (Rules Committee Blog)
    How many events can I swim?
    We must have some very hearty swimmers in our USMS membership ranks. The rules say that a swimmer can swim a maximum of five individual events per day at a USMS sanctioned meet. But, we get a lot of questions asking if there are circumstances where swimmers can swim more than five events in one day. The short answer is "no", but read further for an explanation.

    Can swimmers compete in "exhibition" events over the five event limit? Could a swimmer compete in several events and then choose which five to record for official purposes? One meet host asked if it was possible to offer an award for swimmers who were willing to swim every single event on the meet program. Is that possible? What about non-conforming events, such as 25-yard or 25-meter events. Do those count against the event limitation?

    Wow. I am tired just thinking about it.

    102.6 covers event limits at USMS sanctioned meets. The rules say that "A swimmer may compete in not more than five individual events per day….and shall compete not more than once in each individual event entered. (Read further for an explanation on the "….")

    There is no provision in the rules for "exhibition" or "unofficial" events. All events swum at a USMS sanctioned meet count towards this limitation. In the Glossary, we define "event" as a series of races in a given stroke and distance, or meet; including pool, long distance, or open water. "Individual event" refers to one of these races for a given stroke and distance. Because we do not restrict this definition any further, it means that any stroke and distance swum would be considered as an "individual event". We are also careful to define how events are conducted, how they are judged, and how to determine official times and placement for each event. It is simply not possible to swim an event that does not "count" under the rules.

    Rules 102.5.1 and 102.5.2 cover that may be offered at USMS sanctioned meets. This section of the rules also refers to 202.1.1-F(3) for nonconforming events. Nonconforming events are defined as events that not listed in part one of the rule book. These could include 25-yard or 25-meter events or any other creative event that the meet host would like to offer. (I am personally lobbying for a 1650-yard breaststroke.) These events may be conducted as long as they are conducted in a safe manner. The term "nonconforming" means that we do not keep records and top 10 rankings. However, because 102.6 does not distinguish between conforming and nonconforming events, any nonconforming events must also count towards the event limit.

    Note that the meet host (with approval of the sanctioning LMSC) could impose an event limit less than five events per day. The rules do not require the host to allow swimmers to swim a maximum of five events. The host could also place other event limitations for a meet, such as requiring swimmers to choose only one distance freestyle event. The maximum allowed by rule is five individual events per day.

    The entry limitations are different at USMS National Championship meets. Limits for National Championships are addressed in 104.5.3. The limit is three individual events per day and five (or six at the discretion of the USMS Championship Committee) individuals for the entire meet.

    The exception to this limitation is covered at the end of 102.6. If an event or events are postponed to a subsequent day of the meet due to circumstances beyond the control of meet officials (for example, due to a thunderstorm), then the postponed events could be swum without being included in the five event limitation on the re-scheduled day.

    Now, about the "…" (yada, yada, yada)
    USMS meets are normally conducted in a "timed finals" format. That means everyone gets once chance to swim the event. Official times are determined and then places are determined based on ranking all of the official times. While it is rare, the rules also allow meets to be conducted with preliminary heats and finals if the meet is held in a 25-yard pool. If this format is followed, then the entry limitation becomes a maximum of three events per day. This format may not be used at USMS National Championships (102.10.1-A).
  19. What's My Time?

    by , December 28th, 2015 at 03:55 PM (Rules Committee Blog)
    What's My Time? It is the question that every swimmer wants to know as soon as the race is over. But, with different types of timing systems, the possibility of malfunctions, and the requirements for records to be established, the answer can be more complicated that many swimmers realize. Determining official time is one of the key jobs for officials and one that we all take seriously since every swimmer is entitled to the most accurate time that we can determine for each race. Much of the work to determine official times and get the results published takes place behind the scenes at a meet.


    USMS rules define different types of timing systems and levels of timing systems that can be used for different official purposes (103.17.1, 103.17.2, and 103.18.4). A "fully automatic" system is one which uses an automatic start (activated by the starter when the starting signal is given) and a touchpad finish. The term "fully automatic" means that the timing system does all of the work and no human action (like pressing a button) is required. A fully automatic system is considered the most accurate type of timing system and is therefore the highest level of timing possible. Times obtained from a fully automatic system are good for any purpose, including world records, USMS records, LMSC records, and USMS top ten rankings (103.18.4). If everything is working correctly, the time recorded by the touchpad at the end of your race becomes your official time (103.17.8-A). With modern electronic scoreboards, swimmers often have the luxury of seeing the official time as soon as the race is completed - for better or worse!

    But, the scoreboard times are not official times until reviewed by an official (103.7.2-C). Sometimes swimmers are surprised when their posted time in the results does not match the scoreboard. Why would that be the case? Sometimes touchpads can malfunction, either by failing to record a touch, recording a late touch, or (rarely) an errant early touch. More often, swimmers fail to touch the pad with enough force to record a touch at the finish or touch some other part of the wall. If you finish your race and look up at the scoreboard only to see the clock still running, that is a pretty good indication of a malfunction! The officials will use both observations and comparisons of primary and backup times to identify malfunctions.

    Because automatic timing systems can malfunction, the rules require backup systems (103.17.2-B). Most commonly, timers stationed at the finish end use buttons (which are also connected to the electronic timing system) to record a backup time. A timing system that uses an automatic start and a human-recorded finish is known as a "semi-automatic" system (103.17.1-B). Because human reaction times are involved (and buttons can also malfunction), we usually need more than one button time to ensure accuracy. Volunteers are hard to find, so many times it depends on how many timers are available.

    If the pad time is invalid, do we just use the button times to determine your official time? Not necessarily. Remember that button times are not as accurate because there is human reaction time involved. So, the rules define several different methods to correct for this inaccuracy (10317.3-C through G). The referee may determine that a consistent average difference could be added to (or subtracted from) all of the button times at a single meet. Some timing systems already apply a standard correction factor and others do not, so it may depend on what brand of timing system is being used. The referee may also determine that a specific correction factor is needed for an individual lane malfunction. This is typically done by calculating the difference between all of the good pad times and the button times for every other lane in the same heat. The average difference is then used as the correction factor. Even more accurate would be to calculate the average pad-button difference for several heats on the same lane before and after the race in question. If the buttons fail, watch times can still be used for this purpose, but more often watch times are simply used for comparison to help identify malfunctions.

    A recent innovation in elite meets is the use of stationary overhead cameras, which may be used instead of backup buttons provided they are fully integrated with the primary timing system. (103.17.2-B)

    Why do we go to all of this trouble? Because the rules say that any corrected time (using any of these methods) is just as good a fully-automatic (pad) time, whether one, two, or three buttons are used as backup system. Corrected times can used for any official purpose, including records and Top Ten. (103.18.7)

    If touchpads are not available, a semi-automatic system can still be used as the primary timing system for the meet. But, for records to count, you must have three buttons (which means three timers) for each lane. USMS top ten rankings can still be achieved with a semi-automatic system using two timers per lane. And, if no electronic timing system is available, hand-held watches can still be used, but three watches are necessary for records and two watches for top ten rankings.

    One rule every swimmer will be glad to know exists is 103.18.6. "No swimmer shall be required to re-swim a race due to equipment failure that results in unrecorded or inaccurate time or place." That is another reason for multiple backup systems and procedures to ensure that every swimmer receives a fair and accurate time.

    In response to changes in USA Swimming rules, USMS will have a task force studying the rules for official time determination in 2016 that could result in some changes, but any changes would not occur until 2017.
  20. Revisiting the FINA IM Interpretation

    by , December 3rd, 2015 at 07:31 PM (Rules Committee Blog)
    I was made aware of a running thread on the USMS forums regarding the recent FINA interpretation of swimming backstroke during the freestyle leg of the Individual Medley.

    New rules interpretations that are more restrictive than previous interpretations always generate many questions and many times very lively discussions! We often times engage in “what if” scenarios that go well beyond the written interpretation or intent of the action. With this ruling in particular, I know that many people have very passionate opinions about the nature of this action from FINA. But, if we focus on the interpretation itself and put aside questions about FINA’s motivation and what they may or may not do in the future, I believe we will find that the interpretation is more narrowly focused than some might think.

    I encourage everyone to read the text of the USMS interpretation to conform to the FINA ruling on the USMS web site which should answer many of the questions.

    http://www.usms.org/rules/20150911_f...rpretation.pdf

    In summary, to address some of the recent frequently asked questions:

    1. The recent interpretation deals only with the freestyle leg of the Individual Medley and Medley Relay.

    2. The interpretation only clarifies what it means to be swimming backstroke (in other words, repeating this stroke) during the freestyle leg.

    3. There are no changes to the rules or interpretations regarding the use of butterfly kick or breaststroke kick during the freestyle leg. A swimmer who kicks butterfly off of the wall after the breast-to-free transition or after a freestyle turn has not committed an infraction and is not subject to disqualification.

    4. There are no changes to the rules for the backstroke leg of the race, including the turns, and the back-to-breast transition. It remains legal to do a flip turn during the backstroke leg of an individual medley or medley relay event. However, remember that IM transitions are considered finishes, so the finish rules apply at the back-to-breast transition.

    There is a recent blog post answering questions about the back to breast transition here: http://forums.usms.org/entry.php?374...o-Breast-in-IM

    5. There are no changes to the rules for the butterfly or breaststroke legs or any of the other stroke transitions. It remains legal to do a dolphin kick as part of the underwater cycle in breaststroke during this leg of the race.

    Some of the questions focus on whether officials are being asked to more closely observe freestyle turns during IM events and whether this interpretation is resulting in more disqualifications. Officials are not being asked to be more discerning in judging breast-to-free transitions or freestyle turns in the IM. Our guidance to officials on how turns should be judged remains unchanged.

    In the case of freestyle turns, the interpretation does mean that a swimmer who leaves the wall on (or toward) the back after a freestyle turn would be considered an infraction.

    However, we should keep in mind that observations resulting in disqualifications should be definitive and should clear a “benefit of the doubt” standard. Officials should be judging the turns by focusing on observing a legal touch first (by looking down at the wall). Once a legal touch is observed, the official would typically shift their viewpoint to observe the swimmer leaving the wall. A disqualification for swimming backstroke during the freestyle leg would need to be very clear and it is not likely that a slight turning motion after the feet leave the wall to quickly orient the swimmer towards the breast would be enough to constitute a DQ. The official would have to observe the swimmer moving through the water on their back in order to constitute a disqualification.

    I hope this serves to answer some of the recent questions.

    Charles Cockrell
    USMS Rules Committee Chair
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