Manufacturer: Worlds Backstroke Ledges Designed as ‘Assist,’ Not ‘Platform’


Myrtha Pools, the manufacturer of the backstroke ledges in use at the 2019 FINA World Championships, say it is working with Omega (which provides the design specifications) to improve them in light of a series of malfunctions on the second morning of the meet. The company says the ledges in use at Worlds, however, are not a different model than has been used before.

Throughout the heats of the women’s and men’s 100 back prelim races Monday in Gwangju, it became clear that a number of swimmers were struggling with the backstroke ledge system. Multiple heats saw the field stand down as officials tended to swimmers who had difficulties with the ledge.

All seemed to go smoothly until the final heat of the men’s race, when Italy’s Simone Sabbioni stopped after his start due to an issue with his ledge. The rest of the heat completed their race.

Sabbioni was granted a solo re-swim and moved from lane six to lane five. But in his second attempt, the same thing happened: something appeared to go wrong with the wedge and he again stopped before he could accelerate off the wall at all. In rewatching his second failed start, you can see the straps holding the wedge give out entirely, and the ledge drops inches down the wall. Trinidad and Tobago’s Dylan Carter was also granted a re-swim; he made the final, and 18 swimmers (versus the usual 16) were allowed to race.

“It should be noted that the device was designed as an “assist” to the backstroke start and was never intended to be used as a platform,” Myrtha Pools USA Chairman Trevor Tiffany told SwimSwam in an email.

Notably, Sabbioni’s backstroke start position is more horizontal than we typically see; he sticks his lower back out fairly far while keeping his head in toward the block. Sabbioni’s start position could put more weight on the ledge than it is perhaps built for, and Tiffany noted that Sabbioni had apparently had a similar issue at the European Championships earlier this year.

FINA initially told athletes it would get rid of the ledges altogether the semifinals, but after that decision saw heavy disapproval, coaches met and decided that every athlete’s ledge would be kept on the same (fully extended) setting, and that fixed the issue for the time being.

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2 years ago

The Myrtha and Omega wedges are garbage. The CTS/Spectrum wedges are far better and you can stand on the wedge if the toggle is set.

2 years ago

Lame justification. Platform or “assist,” the ledges are being used the same way everywhere else.

More generally speak, however, backstroke ledges, whatever the make, are among the flimsiest pieces of junk I’ve seen anywhere. Some plastic toys in dollar stores are of better construction. I think a better option is to use a large board that meets some kind of minimum friction requirement or has a number of ribs a swimmer can choose to step on, or something that resembles a rope ladder that is not adjustable but has a number of rungs that a swimmer can choose from.

2 years ago

Definitely some CYA, as should be expected. Pretty lame of Trevor Tiffany to note that it’s happened to Sabbioni before as though he’s the common denominator when multiple swimmers are having issues. They have made a poor product and it is showing on the international stage.

2 years ago

I agree with this actually. Backstroke ledges were introduced to just provide a level playing field by reducing the chance of a slip on the start, while swimmers were supposed to use the same technique they always have.

However this is also just short sidedness by the manufacturer and FINA to not see that this could be easily abused and completely change the way some athletes start now…

Reply to  IM FAN
2 years ago

AMEN if they were meant to be weight bearing we could let them curl their toes in the gutter. Why don’t we? It’s against the rules that’s why! I am tired of elite swimmers trying to break the rules and crying foul when they get caught!

tea rex
Reply to  Cdev
2 years ago

“I won’t try to use the backstroke wedge, because it might give me an advantage over the competition…” said no competitor, ever.

The Ready Room
2 years ago

This is remarkably dumb. What did they think was gonna happen- the athletes weren’t going to leverage the wedge for maximum propulsion?

Old School
2 years ago

By 1978, many of you know we would stand on the gutter and lean over the blocks. I was a semester late getting on board, initially possibly confused they actually allowed this. I also self-righteously believed I didn’t need that advantage, but finally caught on. So, I guess in a reaction to the crazy lengths we were going, ‘everything’ was banned. But for me, if you just allow my toes to curl over the gutter, I can avoid slipping. I see the rule against curling toes over the gutter as a reaction to an issue that really did not exist. And the good news? The gutter never breaks down, needs no setting, no special verification. The only problem is the… Read more »

About Torrey Hart

Torrey Hart

Torrey is from Oakland, CA, and majored in media studies and American studies at Claremont McKenna College, where she swam distance freestyle for the Claremont-Mudd-Scripps team. Outside of SwimSwam, she has bylines at Sports Illustrated, Yahoo Sports, SB Nation, and The Student Life newspaper.

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