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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. Foot Position in the Forward Start

    by , July 5th, 2018 at 08:30 PM (Rules Committee Blog)
    Masters rules for strokes, starts, and turns are mostly the same as USA Swimming rules, but we have a few differences which need some emphasis so that swimmers, coaches, and officials have a clear understanding. One of the most overlooked differences is in the forward start rule and we routinely receive questions regarding the application of this rule. The language of the rule may seem somewhat technical, but we can break down the requirements for a simple explanation.

    USMS article 101.1.1 says the following:

    The forward start may be taken from the starting block, the pool deck, or a push from the wall. At the commencement of each heat, the referee shall signal to the swimmers by a short series of whistles to remove all clothing except for swimwear, followed by a long whistle indicating that they may take and maintain their positions with at least one foot at the front of the starting platform or the deck, or in the water.

    What does the last sentence mean with respect to the position of the feet?

    Masters is unique in imposing a foot position requirement prior to the "take your mark" command. This rule says that swimmers are required to step onto the starting platform and place at least one foot at the front of the block. "Front" does not necessarily mean that the foot has to be at the front edge of the starting platform, but it must be towards the front surface. This requirement applies when the swimmer steps onto the platform.

    The source for this requirement comes from the FINA masters rules. FINA MSW 3.2 says:

    When using the forward start, the referee's whistle shall indicate that the swimmers may take their positions with at least one foot at the front of the starting platform or pool deck, or in the water with one hand having contact with the starting wall.

    USMS article 101.1.1 goes on to say:

    On the starters command, Take your mark, each swimmer shall immediately assume the starting position with at least one foot at the front of the starting platform or the deck.

    We have slightly different wording in article 103.8.5 which says:

    On the starters command, Take your mark, each swimmer shall immediately assume a starting position that maintains at least one foot at the front of the starting platform or at the front of the pool deck.

    The intent of this rule is to say that swimmers may not adjust the position of the front foot after the "take your mark" command. The position of the back foot may be adjusted (for example, to re-position the foot on the back wedge if one is present). The idea is that swimmers must find their position on the starting platform when stepping onto the starting platform and then remain in that position for the entire starting sequence.
  2. Changes to FINA Rules

    by , September 6th, 2017 at 09:01 PM (Rules Committee Blog)
    United States Masters Swimming (USMS) is a member federation of FINA - Federation Internationale de Natation Amateur - the international governing body for aquatic sports. Both USMS and USA Swimming follow the rules of FINA so world records and world top 10 performances can be recognized and so we can have consistency in the rules within the sport.

    FINA typically considers rule changes during the first year of the quadrennial (the year after the Olympics) when the FINA Congress meets at the World Championships. This is a long process that begins almost a year prior to the Congress when member federations have an opportunity to propose changes.

    The FINA Congress met on July 21, 2017 at the World Championships in Budapest. There were two changes approved to the swimming rules (those affect USA Swimming and USMS) and one change specifically approved for masters.

    The first change to the swimming rules is not really a substantive change at all, just a clarification in wording. FINA deleted a sentence from the rule that said "underwater kicking on the side is permitted". That does not mean that underwater kicking on the side is suddenly illegal in butterfly. FINA simply thought that the sentence was redundant and decided to take it out of the rule. The USMS rule does not have this language and since there is no change in how the butterfly will be judged, we dont need to change the USMS rules. Keep those underwater kicks!

    The second change affects the freestyle leg of individual medley and medley relay events. You might recall that in 2015, FINA issued an interpretation of the current rule that said swimmers cannot be in a position on (or towards) the back when swimming freestyle in an IM or medley relay event. This is because being in a position on the back constitutes a legal backstroke and swimmers are not permitted to repeat a stroke previously swum on the freestyle leg of an IM or medley relay (butterfly, backstroke, or breaststroke). This interpretation had the unintended consequence of making it illegal to execute a freestyle turn and leave the wall on your back, even if only for a short time followed by a correction to a position on the breast.

    The rule change would still prohibit swimming in a position on (or towards) the back for most of the freestyle leg of an IM or MR event. But, swimmers will now be permitted to leave the wall on the back, as long as you return to a position on (or towards) the breast before any stroke or kick.

    The third change affects the timing systems required to set a world masters record. Previously, FINA accepted world records when timed with an automatic timing system (touchpads), a semiautomatic primary timing system (automatic start with a button finish), and hand-held watches. Less than 5% of world records in recent years were set with any timing system other than automatic (touchpads). FINA will no longer accept world record applications unless timed with an automatic primary system (touchpads). In the event of a touchpad malfunction, FINA will accept record applications from a one, two, or three button semiautomatic backup system. Buttons may only be used as backup in case of touchpad failure, they may not be used as the primary system for records.

    These changes are effective September 21, 2017. Since USMS automatically adopts changes from FINA, the IM rule will also take effect in USMS sanctioned meets on this date. With our upcoming USMS National Convention, we will be distributing the rule changes to LMSC officials at convention and prior to September 21 to ensure that everyone is informed of the changes.
  3. Swimwear in Training and Competition

    by , June 4th, 2017 at 12:41 PM (Rules Committee Blog)
    Questions regarding swimwear seem to be a constant for masters swimmers.

    The latest issue of SWIMMER magazine features the ROKA SIM PRO II Buoyancy shorts (page 40). The article stresses its use for learning swim skills and training. It is great to know that there are products available to assist swimmers with these all-important skills.

    However, the article omits the all-important, specific statement that the suit is illegal for USMS competition and highlights the need to remind swimmers that there may be many products suitable for training, but not approved for competition.

    The swimwear rules are covered in article 102.12. Article 102.12.1D says that only suits complying with FINA swimsuit specifications may be worn in a USMS sanctioned or recognized competition. Suits are now tested and approved by FINA for the material (they must be made of textile materials), buoyancy, and permeability in order to ensure compliance with FINA standards.

    A complete list of FINA approved swimwear may be found here.

    In addition, there are several important requirements specified in article 102.12 for all pool competition.

    • Swimmers are permitted to wear only one swimsuit in one or two pieces.
    • For men, the suit may not extend above the naval or below the knee.
    • For women, the suit may not cover the neck, extend past the shoulders, or extend past the knee.
    • Swimwear may include a swimsuit, no more than two caps, and goggles. Ear plugs and nose clips are allowed, but armbands and legbands are not considered part of the suit and not allowed.

    Exceptions to these rules for verified medical conditions, religious beliefs, or other circumstances may be approved by the Rules Committee Chair on a case-by-case basis. With medical exceptions, we do our best to consult experts and determine the best solution for the swimmers. Therefore, swimmers seeking an exception are responsible for requesting such an exception and must allow enough time for an evaluation, which sometimes takes several days, up to a few weeks, depending on the circumstances. Asking for a medical exception the night before a meet is likely to result in disappointment!

    The rules for open water and long distance races are covered in 303.7.2 are similar for category I swimwear (i.e., no wetsuits). Men are permitted upper body coverage in open water races and the FINA list includes swimwear specifically approved for open water races. When category II swimwear is permitted, wetsuits, neoprene caps, or other heat-retaining swimwear may be allowed at the discretion of the event director if the water temperature is not greater than 78 degrees F.

    Articles 102.12 and 303.7.2 also mention the use of tape. There are many good products on the market to assist with training and recovery from injuries. But, again, many products that may be suitable for training are not approved for competition.

    USMS rule 102.12.1E (governing pool events) says that Any kind of tape worn on the body is not permitted unless approved by the referee. USMS rule 303.7.3C (governing long distance and open water event) also says that "Any kind of tape worn on the body is not permitted unless approved by the referee." 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.
  4. Are Two Logos Allowed on Racing Suits?

    by , March 15th, 2015 at 01:00 AM (Rules Committee Blog)
    The Coach Asks: I'm confused by the messages advertised by swimsuit vendors about one or two logos on a swimsuit and the American version of a suit versus the European version. Are suits with two logos legal or illegal for USMS competition?

    Answer: Suits with two logos are legal for USMS pool competition. USMS rules do not address the number of manufacturer logos on a swim suit (102.12.2). FINA rules allow two manufacturer logos on a swimsuit, so European suits are manufactured with two logos. In the United States, high school and NCAA rules only allow one manufacturer logo, so American suits are manufactured with one logo. (USA Swimming rules follow FINA rules and allow two logos.) Shoppers have been able to find the European suits online for purchase; hence, the warning from swimsuit vendors about two logos on a suit being illegal in the U.S. for high school and NCAA competition. The FINA rules exempt Masters from the FINA logo rules (FINA Bylaw 7.1), so USMS swimwear rules do not address the number of logos allowed.

    Remind your swimmers that USMS swimwear rules (102.12.1) do not allow modesty wear (no brief, sports bra, or jock strap under the competition suit). FINA approval stamps are not required on swimsuits for USMS competition as long as the suit meets FINA specifications (all textile in one or two pieces, knee to shoulder for women and knee to waist for men, no zippers or other fasteners except for a waist tie). Rules for open water swimwear can be found in USMS 303.7.

    Kathy Casey