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Revisiting the FINA IM Interpretation

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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

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