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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. 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.

    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? Wouldnt 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.
  2. 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 dont 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.
  3. 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
  4. 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.