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Rules Committee Blog

Back to the Basics

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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

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Comments

  1. knelson's Avatar
    I think you missed something pretty important and that's the 15 meter rule.