FINA rules Lochte’s new underwater technique illegal in IM races

FINA has clarified its rules after a bit of a legal skirmish at the 2015 World Championships, officially announcing that Ryan Lochte‘s new twist on underwater kicking will be illegal in IM races moving forward.

The issue is with Lochte’s recent decision to do his underwater dolphin kicking on his back, even on freestyle races. It’s a technique Lochte and coach David Marsh came up with and debuted this summer.

Lochte is generally faster kicking on his back, and the decision helped him win his fourth consecutive world title in the 200 IM in Kazan.

Though the technique is perfectly legal in freestyle (and of course, backstroke), there was concern that it might not fly under FINA’s IM rules. The difference is that “freestyle” permits athletes to do basically any style of stroke, including any of the three other competitive strokes. But in an individual medley race specifically, the “freestyle” leg doesn’t allow for any of the three other competitive strokes to be used – that makes the race a full, four-stroke medley by preventing athletes from repeating one of the other strokes.

During the World Championships, there were rumblings that officials would define Lochte’s underwater kicks on his back as being “backstroke” under the legal definition of the rules, and that he would be disqualified for repeating a stroke in his 200 IM.

Lochte took a risk and swam his race with the new style anyway, and wasn’t disqualified. In a post-race interview, he said he hadn’t heard of a rule prohibiting underwater kicking on one’s back, but also predicted that the rule would be changed in the future.

Turns out, Lochte was right. Germany’s SwimSportNews reports today that FINA has clarified its IM rule, noting that Lochte’s technique will be considered illegal and disqualified in any future IM races.

FINA’s rationale is that “backstroke” is defined by a swimmer traveling lying on his or her back. So in underwater kicking on his back, Lochte is technically swimming backstroke for the first 15 meters of his freestyle lengths.

That’s still perfectly legal in freestyle races, but will no longer be allowed in IM races.

You can watch video of Lochte’s race here.

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5 years ago

ah fina, preventing evolution of the sport, now what if this caught on at the world champs and everyone in kazan did it, I wonder what they would have done then.

CT Swim Fan
Reply to  ok
5 years ago

That was fast. Now they should start trying to clean up the cheating in breaststroke.

Bill S
Reply to  ok
5 years ago

When kitajima added a dolphin kick they changed the rule to allow innovation. When Van Der Burgh added multiple dolphin kicks they turned there head. Now with this they are killing it before it takes effect. How can we have great coaches again like Counsilmen if the sport kills innovation?

Reply to  ok
5 years ago

Using your logic, why have a yardage limit on underwater??

Reply to  Mark
4 years ago

They don’t in breaststroke

5 years ago

Or what if Ryan were one of their known drug cheats that they wanted $wept under the rug from one of the federations they want to appea$e?

David Berkoff
5 years ago

Surprise surprise. FINA makes yet another bad rule on a technical matter and sucks all creativity out of the sport all the while showing absolute incompetence regarding the integrity of the sport.

Reply to  David Berkoff
5 years ago

Kudos to Ryan for pushing the envelope.

About Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson swam for nearly twenty years. Then, Jared Anderson stopped swimming and started writing about swimming. He's not sick of swimming yet. Swimming might be sick of him, though. Jared was a YMCA and high school swimmer in northern Minnesota, and spent his college years swimming breaststroke and occasionally pretending …

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