View RSS Feed

Rules Committee Blog

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

  1. Back to the Basics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Charles Cockrell
    USMS Rules Committee Chair

  2. Revisiting the FINA IM Interpretation

    by , December 3rd, 2015 at 08:31 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 FINAs 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.

    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:

    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
  3. Other Strokes During a Freestyle Event

    by , November 15th, 2015 at 01:00 AM (Rules Committee Blog)
    The Coach Asks: One of my swimmers did the 800 freestyle, alternating freestyle and breaststroke. The official warned my swimmer that he was almost DQed because his head had to stay above the surface when doing the breaststroke during a freestyle event. Is it a DQ if the head goes under water during a cycle of breaststroke? I also thought that once another stroke is chosen for freestyle, you could only do that one style of stroke for the rest of that freestyle event.

    Answer: "The swimmer may swim in any style" during a freestyle event (101.5.2). There is no requirement to do only one style of stroke. If the swimmer is doing the breaststroke, the style of that stroke is that some part of the head breaks the surface of the water during each stroke cycle. Swimming in the style of breaststroke, with the head breaking the surface during each stroke cycle, during a freestyle event does not violate the rule prohibiting a swimmer from completely submerging after the 15-meter mark, since the swimmer is still swimming on the surface. That satisfies "Some part of the swimmer must break the surface of the water throughout the race..." (101.5.2); briefly dipping the head below the surface during each stroke is that swimmer's style of stroke during breaststroke. That is different than being completely submerged for 15 meters. If the swimmer completely submerged again after the 15-meter mark to do another underwater breaststroke pullout, that would be a disqualification. Caution the swimmer that during freestyle, when using the underwater breaststroke pullout after the start and turns, the swimmer's head must break the surface at 15 meters since it is a freestyle event (101.5.2). A second caution is that a swimmer cannot do breaststroke (or butterfly or backstroke) during the freestyle portion of an individual medley event or a medley relay event (101.5.2).

    Kathy Casey

    Updated November 20th, 2015 at 01:24 PM by Rules Committee

  4. Nonstandard Events and Time Submissions

    by , February 15th, 2015 at 01:00 AM (Rules Committee Blog)
    The Coach Asks: At our last meet, swimmers were allowed to enter "(choice) 200 free" on the entry form. The meet information stated, "200 Choice (events 18-19): You may swim the 200 Free, Breast, Back or Fly. Declare 200 Free, Breast, Back or Fly by start of meet." One of my swimmers swam the 200 fly, but his time appears in the results as a 200 free time. What are the rules on this?

    Answer: There is no such event as "200 Choice" (see 102.5 for the list of events that can be offered at a meet). A person is allowed to swim in any style during a freestyle event (101.5.2), but no matter what style is swum, it can only count as a freestyle time (103.18.2). For the time to count for a butterfly time, the swimmer had to enter the 200 butterfly. If you see an entry form like that again, contact and inform the meet director that the entry choice on the entry form must appear as "Event 18-19: 200 (choose one stroke) __:__.__ Free, __:__.__ Breast, __:__.__ Back, or __:__.__ Fly", forcing the swimmer to enter an event that is listed in 102.5.

    Kathy Casey