Needless to say, it was an eventful month of December for Turkish breaststroker Emre Sakci.
Sakci headed to the 2021 Short Course World Championships in Abu Dhabi with eyes on challenging for a pair of gold medals in the men’s 50 and 100 breaststroke, but was denied the opportunity to swim in either final after a pair of disqualifications.
The 24-year-old was one of several swimmers to get disqualified during the opening session of the meet in a breaststroke event, including six in the men’s 100 breast, and then he was dinged a second time in the 50 breast semis after initially posting the fastest time in the field.
Sakci followed that up by heading to compete at the Turkish National Championships at the end of the month, breaking the 50 breast world record by a whopping three-tenths of a second in 24.95. He also set new Turkish National Records in the men’s 50 and 100 freestyle.
The 2020 Olympian addressed the highs and lows of the last few weeks with SwimSwam, and let it be known that he doesn’t see eye to eye with the disqualifications he was handed in Abu Dhabi.
“I don’t agree with the decision,” Sakci told SwimSwam. “Both disqualification decisions were given because of dolphin kicks. When you examine all the world records up to date, you can see that most of the racing is done with waist movements. There were underwater cameras in the Olympics as well. Many high-level swimmers raced there and came to the world championship, and then we saw a record for the number of swimmers DQed at Worlds.
“What happened in this very short time period? Do you think all these high skilled swimmers forgot how to swim?”
FINA approved the use of underwater cameras to be able to initiate, confirm or overturn disqualifications prior to the Tokyo Olympic Games, which marked the first time they were used in that capacity. SC Worlds was just the second time, with the current rules currently dictating that they only be used at an Olympic or World Championship event.
Sakci says he supports the use of underwater video, but wants more cameras to cover the entirety of each race from all angles, hoping to give everyone more clarity on the decisions that are being made. He also suggests removing all dolphin kicks from breaststroke to remove the need for interpretation.
“All of the race should be recorded with underwater and top cameras simultaneously after the whistle is blown, not just from one angle, but the whole race should be examined (start, swim, return, swim) and should be shared with the world transparently,” he said. “All of the international races, including the accredited ones, should be recorded and examined by experts.
“FINA should set a clear standard so that decisions to be made in the breaststroke style are not open to interpretation, and if necessary, remove all allowed dolphin kicks in the breaststroke style.”
As FINA Technical Swim Committee (TSC) Chair Carol Zaleski told SwimSwam at SC Worlds, the majority of breaststroke DQs in Abu Dhabi were caused by a downward dolphin kick from the swimmer prior to the turn and/or finish.
Sakci says that was the cause of his DQs as well, and that he even forced himself to hold off a little bit during his world record swim in Turkey to avoid the same fate. He says that the way he glides into the wall is perceived as a dolphin kick, but claims it’s not what he’s actually doing.
“To avoid any speculation, I had to slow down in the last meters of the finish in the race that I broke the record so that even a non-swimmer can understand,” he said. “Because in the World Championship, the move I did because of my height disadvantage was perceived as a dolphin kick.”
Sakci stands at a towering six feet eight inches tall, and if you watch the race video of him breaking the world record, he manages to finish on a full stroke, avoiding any potential issues with the glide in.
Speaking on the record itself, Sakci said that breaking it outside of the World Championships “didn’t satisfy” him. He was hoping to do it at Worlds, and would’ve preferred getting it done in the ISL or the European Championships—where he’s facing some of the world’s best—compared to doing it at home where he was essentially racing on his own.
A two-time European SC silver medalist in the 50 breast, including in 2021 in Kazan, Sakci revealed the mindset that allowed him to not only break the world record, which had been on the books since 2009, but demolish it by a relatively massive margin.
“My biggest objective is to force my own limits,” he said. “Our target was to swim under 25 seconds for this record.
“When you aim to break a record, you actually limit yourself, whereas when you aim to develop yourself, the results become much better. My future training will be about pushing my limits.”
The record was set at 25.25 by South African Cameron van der Burgh in 2009—with the aid of the now-banned super-suits—and then was matched by Belarusian Ilya Shymanovich in November 2021 at SC Euros, with Sakci taking second in 25.39.
Moving forward, Sakci is eyeing big things in 2022, saying it will be “a year full of competition.”
With several major international meets on the horizon, including the Long Course World Championships in May and the LC European Champs in August, Sakci started things on the right foot in the big pool to end 2021 as well, establishing a personal best time in the 50 breast at 26.83.