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  1. How Do I know if my Swimwear is Legal?

    by , March 4th, 2018 at 11:41 AM (Rules Committee Blog)
    Article 102.12 covers the rules for swimwear in USMS competition. This article contains several provisions, so this month's blog post breaks down each provision, including type of suit, coverage, and other things that can or cannot be worn in competition. Note that article 303.7 covers the rules for long distance and open water which are very similar to pool competition, but contain a couple of key differences.

    102.12.1A says that the swimsuits worn for competition shall be nontransparent and conform to the current concept of the appropriate. The referee shall have authority to bar offenders from competition until they comply with this rule.

    Well, this one should be self-explanatory - no see-through suits!

    102.12.1B says that swimwear shall include only a swimsuit, no more than two caps, and goggles (a nose clip and ear plugs are allowed). Armbands or legbands shall not be regarded as parts of the swimsuit and are not allowed.

    A common question from swimmers is "can I wear something to help with an injury?" Typical questions include things like elastic bandages, knee braces, therapeutic bands, etc. The answer is generally "no" since these are considered an advantage in competition and not permitted under this rule.

    Article 102.12.1C has several rules:

    In swimming competitions, the competitor must wear only one swimsuit in one or two pieces. Does this mean that women can wear two-piece suits? Yes, but see below for some restrictions on coverage and fasteners.

    The rule also says that for men, the swimsuit shall not extend above the navel nor below the knees, and for women, shall not cover the neck, extend past the shoulder nor extend below the knees. (See below for the difference that applies to open water competitions.)

    All swimsuits must be made from textile materials. How would I know if my suit has a material that is not permitted? Well, we also say in 102.12.1D that only swimwear complying with FINA specifications may be worn in any USMS sanctioned or recognized competition. FINA evaluates and maintains a list of approved swimwear. If you purchase a suit that has been approved by FINA, it will have a sticker on it that says "FINA Approved Swimwear". All of these suits are approved for use in USMS competition and a complete searchable list is maintained by FINA here:

    USMS policy is to also accept "legacy" suits that comply with FINA specifications even if they do not appear on the FINA approved list. Generally, suits that are made out of materials such as lycra, nylon, polyester, or other traditional materials are acceptable. Suits made from neoprene or other buoyant materials are not acceptable because they violate 102.12.1E regarding the use of devices or substances that enhance speed, pace, buoyancy, or endurance. Any type of surface treatment that closes the mesh structure of the material (suach as a coating) is subject to scrutiny, so it is the technical suits that we need to look at. A pair of "board shorts" or a beach suit for women made out of traditional materials will generally comply with the rule.

    General tip: If a suit is marketed specifically for triathletes or strictly for training, you may want to check the specifications further. Triathlons donít follow the same rules and we have found some suits marketed to improve buoyancy that would not comply with the rule. Anything marketed with a thermal insulation material (e.g., a wetsuit) is likely not permitted.

    FINA also has a prohibition against zippers or any other fastening system, including ties. A waist tie is the only exception. For women, this means that a two-piece suit with a top piece that ties in the back is not permitted.

    The FINA approval process will also look at the thickness and permeability of the material used in the swimwear construction. If you really want to understand all of the technical specifications, you can find them here:

    Now we go to article 102.12.1E which says that no swimmer is 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 caps, etc.).

    All of these great training devices that we use in workouts to help us train more effectively either by improving stroke technique, dealing with injuries, or making it easier to train are not meant for competition.

    What about watches? The interpretation on watches is that watches could be considered pacing devices, but only if they are used for this purpose. It is not necessarily illegal to wear a watch in competition, but if an official observes a swimmer using a watch during a race, the swimmer is subject to disqualification.

    Rule 102.12.1E also explicitly says that medical identification items may be worn. If you wear a medical alert bracelet, for example, you are not required to remove it for competition. Doing so could compromise safety and the ability to respond to a medical emergency.

    Rule 102.12.1E also addresses the use of tape. The rule says that any kind of tape on the body is not permitted unless approved by the referee. We get many questions regarding the application of the rule and an official interpretation, consistent with FINA and USA Swimming, was issued in 2016.

    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.

    Finally, we have the following provision in article 102.12.1C(1): Exemptions to the foregoing restrictions may be granted to a swimmer, on a case-by-case basis, by the chair of the Rules Committee or designee. Exemptions will be granted for conflicts due to the swimmerís verified religious beliefs, verified medical conditions, or other reasons as deemed appropriate by the chair of the Rules Committee.

    Medical exemptions are generally intended for permanent medical conditions that would preclude someone from complying with the swimwear rules and being able to participate in competition altogether. If you feel that you have a medical condition, a religious belief, or other circumstance that would merit an exemption, please contact the USMS Rules Committee Chair at:

    Article 102.12 describes the rules for pool competition, but the same rules generally apply for "category I swimwear in open water competition (i.e., not wetsuits) as described in article 303.7. The coverage rules for open water competition are different - both men and women are permitted to wear a suit that does not extend past the shoulder or past the ankles. For medical exceptions that cover open water competition, swimmers should contact the chair of the USMS Long Distance Committee at:
  2. Completely Submerged

    by , December 3rd, 2017 at 10:16 AM (Rules Committee Blog)
    What are the rules about being completely submerged in butterfly and backstroke? Can swimmers be disqualified for being completely submerged after the 15-meter mark?

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


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

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

    What if this action occurs before the 15-meter mark? Wouldnít that be permissible since the swimmer is permitted to be completely submerged for a distance up to 15-meters after the start and after each turn?

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

    by , November 26th, 2017 at 11:05 AM (Rules Committee Blog)
    I have been asked questions recently regarding the use of relay takeoff judging equipment at USMS meets.

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

    First, there is article 102.13.1 which discusses disqualifications:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    by , November 9th, 2017 at 07:26 PM (Rules Committee Blog)
    In this Rules Blog entry, we answer a few frequently asked questions about relays, splits, and distance events.

    Question: At a recent meet, we were told that our relays would be disqualified if we didnít use the swimmersí registered names on the relay cards. Can they do that?

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

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

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

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

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

    Question: Why isnít there a warning signal for the 400 free in a 25-meter pool or the 400 IM? What about counters?

    Answer: Article 103.8.7 states that a starter will provide a warning signal in events 500 yards or longer. So, the 400 free and the 400 IM events do not require a warning signal. The rules say that a swimmer may have a counter for events of 16 lengths or more except for the individual medley. Therefore, swimmers may have a counter for a 400-meter free in a 25-meter pool, but not in a 50-meter pool. Swimmers are not entitled to have a counter in a 400 IM.
  5. 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.
  6. 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
  7. 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
  8. 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

  9. 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.