USA Swimming Hopes to Unveil Backstroke Wedges at Mesa Grand Prix

If all goes well at a site visit by makers Omega next week, the newly-approved backstroke start wedges will make their USA Swimming major debut at the Mesa Grand Prix in April, and be seen again at the Santa Clara Grand Prix in June.

“That is our goal,” USA Swimming Assistant Executive Director Mike Unger, and swim meet operations guru, told us today. “We are working with Omega to have them used at the Mesa and Santa Clara Arena Grand Prix meets.”

The “wedges” were approved by FINA at last summer’s new rules committee meetings in Barcelona in July, but as with any new equipment it takes some time for development to be completed, and for further testing, before it can logistically be used in competition.

The purpose of the new wedges is to give a more standardized starting foot placement for backstrokers. With different pool designs and different types (and qualities) of touch pads, it can create an inconsistent starting surface for backstrokers. The hope is that these new wedges will decrease the incidence of slips on backstroke starts, which are not uncommon even at high level meets.

With the combination of these new blocks, as well as the recent addition of vertical gripping handles, the start continues to become a more-and-more explosive part of the backstroke race.

Below are photos from demonstrations of the new wedges that Myrtha Pools and Omega developed; images are from the 2012 World Short Course Championships in Istanbul, Turkey.

Courtesy: Myrtha Pools

Courtesy: Myrtha Pools

Courtesy: Myrtha Pools

Courtesy: Myrtha Pools


  1. Sw4mmer says:

    WORST idea ever…what is wrong with the current backstroke starts?? This will only increase the cost to clubs who want to have “relevant” starting equipment. Stupid, stupid idea.

    • swimfan says:

      the sport of swimming is evolving, being a swimmer myself, i have found that the addition of the wedge on the blocks for a dive start has been terrific! if dive starts have managed to evolve why cant the backstroke starts? Watching races where someone slips just because of a slippery starting pad are terrible, this would completely even things up and the swimming would have to do the talking! I’m all for it!

    • Dude says:

      I’ve 15, have swam for 11 years, have 5 junior national times, and 4 All American Titles. Backstroke is my best stroke, I still slip at some meets. Even if you have good technique the walls/touch pads can be very slippery and you can slip and there thats a second you wont get back. You should understand what you are talking about before saying anything.

  2. Sw4mmer says:

    And the whole “this will eliminate slipping” argument is BS. If you don’t want to slip on your backstroke start, learn proper technique and get your hips below your shoulders.

    • coacherik says:

      I have not been around swimming for that long, but combined athlete and coach time is 23 years. I have never seen anyone get their hips above their shoulders on a backstroke start, that is until they left the blocks…

      How do you know this won’t work? Have you used it?

      Coaches will still have to teach backstroke starts. Putting this thing in doesn’t remove the element of teaching a proper backstroke start.

    • james says:

      You’re an idiot. People slip all the time because the touch pads are not always sticky or have a good surface. You probably dont swim and are a scrub

  3. jarrettbrown says:

    From what I can see, it’s not really going to eliminate the whole slipping theory all together, but just helping with better starts. I remember during nationals last year, they were talking about this and the swimmers that demoed it were impressed with their starts thanks to this. I think Braden wrote the article or knows which one I’m talking about.

  4. A says:

    Well, even though my swimming career (although not coaching career) is over I do think this is a fantastic addition. For me, I worked well with high walls, but then at the same time it is illegal to have your feet above the water line during a start (in the league I was in at least). Walls are slippery with tile, or without a touchpad. With this new addition the slip motion would go away. The only concern I would have is the finish. Would this new piece get in the way of the swimmers finish, would someone need to collapse it? We will have to see! Too bad this didn’t come a year earlier.

    • A says:

      Also the photo of the woman with her feet curled over the edge is so deceptive. That is illegal, so I don’t know why Myrtha is using it as an example. The rules may be lax on the olympic level, but for at least state level it is illegal. Would be a DQ if caught.

      • Steve Nolan says:

        The point of this wedge is that you curl your feet around it, I think.

      • newswim says:

        Don’t think so…the rule states you may not curl your toes over the edge of the “gutter”….and this is not the gutter….in fact the rendering displays Omega type of pads where it is virtually impossible to curl the toes over the gutter (but easy to slip as noted below).

        • A says:

          Well the image shown looks like a gutter, not the new additional piece advertised by this article. I know what your saying and that would be OK but a gutter is shown…

  5. Swimmerswammer says:

    Sw4mmer – even the worlds best are prone to slipping. Look
    At last years world champ semi finals. Have you ever done backstroke internationally? I would like to hear from
    Grevers, thoman, Stravius etc on their thoughts as opposed to yours

  6. M_FAN says:

    Won’t this impact you when you are doing flip turns? Won’t your feet hit this ‘bump’ on the wall?

    • CZAJA says:

      The wedge is designed to be pulled out of the water after the start. In the rendering you can see a handle behind the back of the block that allows for this to occur.

    • km says:

      no, it is the responsibility of the officials to remove the backstroke start bar after the start…

      which is one of the reasons (other than the fact that everyone will have to buy these, it will be up to the facility, as swimmers will not be able to bring their own), we’ll be hard pressed to see much of these below the national/grand prix level… in an 8 lane pool, you normally have 2 officials on the start wall… they’ll have to scramble and pull 4 “start bars” each, and then get back in position to ACTUALLY WATCH THE SWIMMERS… long course, maybe they can get away with it, but short course???

  7. coach says:

    this is easily the worst invention for swimming. now the timers have to be responsible to insert and remove this item before the start of each race and once the race ends? this will add to time lines.

    and what about the rule where a swimmer’s toes cannot be over the edge or out of the water? i guess it is abandoned.

    wait, why not just remove that rule all together and let kids put their toes over the edge of the pool!!! save money on unneeded equipment. let meets run faster because dq’s wont get called. hmmm, sounds like a good idea!

    • Arthur says:

      Your toes can be out of the water if they are still on the touch pad. They can’t be curled over the edge or into the gutter.

  8. coacherik says:

    I’m not sure what is more irritating about this thread, people who say it won’t work or is a dumb idea without seeing it in action or people who claim to be coaches who don’t know the rules that apply to swimming.


  9. old f@rt says:

    These backstroke wedges are nothing new. Back in the late 1970′s the national high school federation that oversees swimming experimented with a removable (that’s how you keep from hitting it during turns) backstroke wedge during at least the 1978-79 school year. I was student teaching & assist coaching at Butler HS in PA and we had three of them, albeit of a bit different design. As a collegiate backstroker (who had exhausted eligibility by then) I tried it and loved it….but then, back in those days in HS swimming you could still do a “standing” backstroke start!

  10. Swimmer says:

    Its great to make new things for swimming like this but can’t we all agree that instead of bringing some new unnecessary equipment in isn’t as important as other issues? Such as why it was necessary to eliminate leg skins? Now that’s an ignorant rule that should be changed.

  11. patrick brundage says:

    At least for SCY, let’s avoid this expense and complications and go back to the 1980′s era stand up starts.

    As for meters, if we just stopped using those slippery yellow Omega pads and used the nice, rough white Colorado swimming pads, we wouldn’t have to worry about this contraption.

    Better yet, get rid of the in water start and just require everyone to be on their back by the 15m mark. No cost and easy to officiate.

  12. CoachGB says:

    This is the same thing thst Phil Moriarity of Yale had in early 70′s and couldn’t get it accepted reason then given it would damage the pads. Does FINA get a royalty which makes it easier to accept? Will cause some delay in backstroke events in handling them and an education period and how do you determine how deep according to swimmers height.

  13. SwimFanFinland says:

    I’m sure the majority of swimming halls in the world don’t even have the starting blocks currently used in FINA meets. Some can train with the official blocks and some don’t. By the way, is this about creating a little bit revenue for the important sponsors of FINA?

    I second what Patrick Brundage said above. Why not to get rid of the whole backstroke start? A swimmer can make a normal dive start and turn himself/herself over during the underwater. This would bring new world records to grab the headlines that FINA and many others so much love.

    But actually swimming needs more dramatics not less.

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