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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Harry McGowan
7 years ago

SW 9.1 In individual medley events, the swimmer covers the four swimming strokes in the following order: Butterfly, Backstroke, Breaststroke and Freestyle. Each of the strokes must cover one quarter (1/4) of the distance.

SW 5.1 Freestyle means that in an event so designated the swimmer may swim any style, except that in individual medley or medley relay events, freestyle means any style other than backstroke, breaststroke or butterfly.

If each of the strokes must cover 1/4 distance Fina Rule 9.1 then given Lochte did part Backstroke / Part something else then he didn’t swim Backstroke for that 1/4 of the distance therefore by definition he swam a different style to either Backstroke, Breaststroke or Butterfly for that 1/4 distance… Read more »

PHELPS SWIMS 200 BREAST RIO
7 years ago

I’m both fascinated and frustrated by this topic.

Steve-O Nolan
7 years ago

I don’t really care which way the ruling actually comes down, but it’s gonna have to be worded hella weird to explicitly ban what Lochte did. A large percentage of swimmers push off the wall on their back – are they all disqualified now? There’ll have to be something added about immediately starting to roll towards the breast, or something.

Seems hell of a lot easier to just say “has to break out on the breast” and let Lochte do what he do.

Deb
7 years ago

OK. So now if you come off the wall with a dolphin kick on your stomach (which they all do) it has to be considered butterfly.

USA official
7 years ago

So if USA swimming approves this FINA change (which they usually do) what you are in fact doing is stating that during the transition of breast stroke to freestyle in the IM if your body is in fact on the back and the feet leave the wall and you perform any portion of a stroke or kick you have just performed the backstroke again during the freestyle portion and therefore should be DQed. I am interested in seeing if FINA hold true to this ruling after they have time to think about. So my questions to you. Should we allow x kicks on their back. X stokes on there back or just DQ if the swimmer leaving the wall on… Read more »

Richard
7 years ago

Sorry for posting a non-swimming question, but how can I view the comments more clearly? Grey print on white does not suit ancient eyes.

Ron
7 years ago

If over the course of several yards/meters it looks like backstroke it’s backstroke. If when the feet leave the wall and the swimmer is spiralling to the breast it obviously doesn’t look like backstroke. If however the swimmer stays past vertical towards the back till the 15 mark. Then it’s back stroke.

Kirk Nelson
Reply to  Ron
7 years ago

I don’t think the “I know it when I see it” interpretation is good enough.

Tim
Reply to  Ron
7 years ago

Here’s my problem with this whole thing, besides it opening a big ‘ole can of worms in general.

I as a swimmer (and as I’ve taught all the swimmers I’ve coached over the years to do) push off on my back in freestyle, both in an IM and in freestyle) and take 5-6 dolphin kicks to fully rotate towards my stomach. Given that the first one or two dolphin kicks are flat on my back before I start the 3-4 kick rotation to my stomach, is that now illegal at the FINA level? I swim Masters, so I’m not too concerned at my level yet, but it’s the principle of the matter.

Following the train of thought to the logical… Read more »

DL
Reply to  Tim
7 years ago

Why are flip turns relevant? In a freestyle race you are allowed to push off on your back; in fact, you are allowed to swim half a length backstroke and half a length freestyle, or any other combination. The point is that when you come off the breast to free turn you can not be past vertical because this counts as backstroke, and the rules clearly state that the last length can be any stroke except for butterfly, backstroke, or breaststroke.

Tim
Reply to  DL
7 years ago

Flip turns are relevant in the 400 IM. The FINA rules regarding IMs apply to all distances of IMs, not just the 200 IM.

As long as I have been involved in swimming (20+ years), it has been taught that you do as flat a flip as possible and do not twist until you push off the wall, resulting in initially being on your back when pushing off the wall on a freestyle flip turn.

Dan
7 years ago

If dolphin kicking on your back is considered backstroke, then why is dolphin kicking on your stomach not considered fly?

Reply to  Dan
7 years ago

Because the *only* stipulation for legal backstroke is being on your back. Dolphin kick on the stomach alone does not a butterfly make.

wormy
Reply to  Dan
7 years ago

Dan, exactly

wormy
Reply to  Dan
7 years ago

Back is half of back stroke. Got to stroke to tell if you back stroking.

Kirk Nelson
Reply to  wormy
7 years ago

I disagree. You can legally swim backstroke without ever taking a stroke.

wormy
Reply to  Kirk Nelson
7 years ago

Kirk, you are right, I was approaching it from what is legal. EG, is pushing off on your back 1 feet from wall legal, 10 ft? When does it become illegal. I also know how we have officiated things like this, we need to see some stroking in the freestyle leg to know that it is not freestyle.

Devo
Reply to  Dan
7 years ago

It is, and it isn’t. There is no kick/stroke order in fly. If a swimmer chooses to dolphin kick throughout the race without cycling the arms, it’s perfectly legal as long as they surface at 15m and remain on the surface. The only real requirements are that they surface at 15m, arm recovery must be above water, and at the turn and finish, hands must touch simultaneously.

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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