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
5 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.

Joel Lin
5 years ago

So he can do it on the 4th lap of a 200 free but can’t do it on the 4th lap of a 200 IM which is also a freestyle lap. This is so stupid.

Reply to  Joel Lin
5 years ago

Keep in mind that he can also do the backstroke on the 4th lap of a 200 free, but not on a 200 IM. And the difference is…?

5 years ago

Is pushing off from the wall mid way through the Free*style leg of an 400 IM (or SC 200 IM) also now to be illegal? So we need to re-reinvent the Free*style flip turn to put the body twist back in just for IM. Awesome!

5 years ago

Aren’t you always on your back for at least some time following your freestyle turn?

Reply to  WiscoSwim
5 years ago

For the freestyle turn, one is allowed to turn in any manner (including being on the back) provided that some part of the swimmer’s body touches the wall at the turn.* But once the swimmer finishes executing the turn (e.g. the feet leave the wall), for the interpretation of the IM, the shoulders must be at or past vertical toward the breast.

*FINA (as far as I am aware) does not formally give a definition of “the turn”, however a working definition from USA swimming specifies the turn to be “the point in the race when the swimmer reverses or changes direction”.

Rick Paine
5 years ago

Is he still allowed to do fly kick on his stomach off the walls in Freestyle? Isn’t this fly? FINA’s thought process is if you don’t understand it, ban it.

Michael Schwartz
Reply to  Rick Paine
5 years ago

Although back in 2004 when FINA was faced with the difficult choice of what to do with the breastroke pullout they just said “O Hell! Let’s let everybody get a dolphin kick! EVERYBODY GETS ONE!” And Kitajima keeps his Gold medal. Now 11 years later people are getting away with 3 fast dolphin kicks as soon as they enter the water…And they still get to keep their Gold medals.

Reply to  Rick Paine
5 years ago

Rick – in freestyle you can swim ANY stroke. In IM, you can do ANY stroke…except one you’ve already done.

Which, is a strange rule to me simply because I don’t see what advantage would be gained by, for example, finishing your IM swimming butterfly.

Reply to  Braden Keith
5 years ago

Did I read this right? I can finish my IM with butterfly? Here’s the advantage of finishing an IM with butterfly, from a master’s swimmer’s perspective: I routinely go easy on the fly, so that I can have enough in the tank to finish the race. If this rule holds at master’s meets as well, I’m going to do a reverse IM the next chance I have. I usually go faster in practice when I do an M.I., rather than an I.M.

Besides, this gives me a great chance to mess with the minds of my competition.

Reply to  Catherine
5 years ago

I don’t think that’s what Braden was saying.

As I understand it, the order of the IM is set in stone, beginning with fly obviously, and continuing from there. Anything else is a DQ at all levels of swimming I know of.

Reply to  mcgillrocks
5 years ago

This is a big disappointment, but thanks anyway for clarifying.

I propose a new rule : A swimmer can choose the order of strokes that they do in the IM. It would make the event way more interesting for spectators, and a lot of fun for the swimmers as well.

Michael Schwartz
5 years ago

So I guess FINA really stands for F*** Innovation and Never Alter.

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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