FINA Sends Out Official Interpretation of IM Freestyle Rules

FINA has sent a memo to all of the world’s swimming federations spelling out the official interpretation of IM rules that will disallow the underwater technique used by Ryan Lochte to win gold at the 2015 World Championships.

This summer, Lochte started doing all of his underwater kicking on his back, even in freestyle races, to take advantage of his superior skills in kicking on his back.

But shortly after Lochte won the 200 IM gold at Worlds, FINA ruled that the technique would no longer be allowed in IM races.

We recently reported on the interpretation of the rule that FINA provided to officials at Junior Worlds in Singapore, but the international swimming federation has now sent out a memo to all of its member federations spelling out the official language of the interpretation.

You can view the full memo here. We’ve pulled out the IM interpretation and republished it below:

Interpretation: According to SW 9.1 each of the strokes must cover one quarter (1/4) of the distance. Being on the back when leaving the wall for the Freestyle portion of the Ind. Medley is covering more than one quarter of the distance in the style of Backstroke and is, therefore, a disqualification. Backstroke swimming is only defined as being on the back.

The question now is how strictly this rule will be enforced on swimmers who aren’t kicking on their backs, but pushing off the wall on their backs for a brief bit on a turn before rolling over to their stomachs. It appears the rule will also apply to the freestyle-to-freestyle turn in a 400 IM (or a short course 200 IM).

Lochte’s technique of kicking underwater on his back will still be perfectly legal in pure freestyle races – the only snag in the rulebook stems from IM rules that require 1/4th of the race to be done in each stroke. FINA’s new interpretation classifies kicking on one’s back as “backstroke,” and therefore backstroke is taking up more than 1/4th of the total distance of the race.

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So we can’t dolphin kick off the wall on our stomach during the freestyle leg either, as that would be butterfly?


FINA was very specific that butterfly kicking without butterfly recovery is not recognizable butterfly (although kicking on the back without arm recovery on the back is recognizable backstroke).

Next thing you know, they’ll allow butterfly kicks in breaststroke…

Becky D

It’s really too bad there’s no way to insert a rim shot into a comment here.

CT Swim Fan

FINA just sounds stupid.

G Wilson

Butterfly kicks in breaststroke comes up frequently in rules meetings… so far, we’re safe.


I guess freestyle isn’t really freestyle in the IM


Actually, if I remember correctly, it’s not – it’s front crawl.


I take back my comment, the wording does say freestyle.


As I’ve commented several times before, FINA has not addressed the other requirement for backstroke:

SW 6.3: “At the signal for starting and after turning the swimmer shall push off and *swim upon his back throughout the race* except when executing a turn as set forth in SW 6.5. The normal position on the back can include a roll movement of the body up to, but not including 90 degrees from horizontal. The position of the head is not relevant.”

I disagree with FINA again. Per 6.3, if you aren’t staying on your back, you’re not doing backstroke.

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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