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Completely Submerged

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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.

Butterfly

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.

Backstroke

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.

Freestyle

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.

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