NCAA OK With “Lochte Turn” For Now, Next Rules Review in 2017

Braden Keith
by Braden Keith 12

November 05th, 2015 College, News

The NCAA is taking a more liberal stance at present regarding flipturns in medley events than is USA Swimming, SwimSwam has confirmed on Wednesday afternoon.

The Backstory

(Skip ahead if you read this morning’s article).

This summer, American superstar swimmer Ryan Lochte began experimenting with swimming the underwater portion of his freestyle races on his back, before turning over on his stomach just before rising to the surface.

He used the technique to win his 4th-straight long course World Championship in the 200 IM, and while that medal will stand, FINA was not to let his ingenuity go without remark. While the organization didn’t retroactively impact the result, shortly after the World Championships ended, they released a new interpretation of their own existing rule.

The interpretation, which was not an actual rule change, said that on the freestyle portions of the IM events (aka the closing leg), a swimmer being on their back would be rule a violation of the clause of the rules that forbids a swimmer from repeating a stroke in a medley event. Lochte’s new technique is still allowed in a freestyle-specific event.

Recently, USA Swimming informed one Wisconsin official that they were extending that ruling to intermediate turns on IM and medley relay events. In other words, medley relay anchors and IM’ers will now have to alter the traditional freestyle flipturn technique for those races specifically.

The NCAA’s Interpretation

The NCAA, meanwhile, has taken a more open approach to the new innovation.

Brian Gordon, the Secretary – Rules Editor for the NCAA, says that NCAA policy only allows them to make rules changes during a rules change year. The next rules change year is in 2017. Gordon, reiterating what was sent out in their most recent officials newsletter, says that “there is no language in the NCAA rulebook specifically prohibiting the ‘Lochte turn,’ so it would be legal under our playing rules.”

While by Lochte’s own admission, not every swimmer will benefit from this technique, it’s certain that some will at least experiment with it.

This isn’t the first time that NCAA rules have differed marginally from those set by FINA and USA Swimming. For example, during the 2014-2015 season, the NCAA had more restrictive breaststroke pullout rules than did USA Swimming (more here). In that case, the NCAA had to keep a special eye on swims at USA Swimming’s Winter Nationals to make sure that they also followed NCAA regulations.

In this case, it’s an opposite effect. Officials at NCAA meets will have to keep a special eye to certify turns as legal under USA Swimming rules.

This becomes especially significant in a pre-Olympic year, where more college meets than normal are held in long course and swimmers are attempting to earn Olympic Trials standards.

High School Federations to Chime In

We have reached out to the National Federation of High School Associations (NFHS), the umbrella organization that provides guidance to the majority of high school scholastic competition in the United States.

The NFHS is currently working through their interpretations process, which begins at the state level, but assures us that there will be a unified standard across its membership. Our point of contact will be with the UIL in Texas: the state of SwimSwam’s headquarters.

SwimSwam will update its readers when the NFHS comes to a conclusion.

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Swim Official

Below is the information on the interpretation, sent by USA Swimming to all their certified officials:

Phil Jackson

Excellent Picture, horrible rule. Thankfully it has not made its way to Collegiate and High School Swimming. I understand not kicking out past the flags on your back during an I.M. on free leg like Lochte but pushing off as soon as your feet touch the wall and straightening out as you kick out is what every swimmer is taught. Can’t ask them to re-program that in an olympic year!


I still don’t understand what I’ll be doing at USA meets…

Referee Madness

Imagine being on the other side of the whistle and having to defend the harshest interpretation of the IM freestyle flip turn possible. I left the LSC House of Delegates meeting disgusted and sought the assistance of a local Coach to escalate the matter to the USA-Swim Officials committee. Representatives at the highest levels confirmed that the IM flip turn is included in the interpretation. Officials opposing the broad interpretation at the LSC level were in the minority, so it’s likely that swimmers will be DQ’d with regularity in the very near future. Unfortunately, the impact will be realized one Athlete at a time with no reasonable path for recourse. I don’t look forward to my next Stroke Briefing.

Phil Jackson

Preach! The officials were so confused at our first meet. They were raising their hands to DQ kids and the result was that they were not DQ because it was a high school meet but since it is a DQ in USA Swimming their time did not count as a USA swimming time. Poor officials have to try and sort this mess out.

Swim Giggles LLC

I’m so confused. I understand that a swimmer should not kick out on their back except on the backstroke leg, but for what were kids being DQ’d? I’m also a USA coach and have not heard of a change to turns. I don’t want any swimmers to be DQ’d for something I didn’t make clear. Thanks!

Referee Madness

It’s my understanding, confirmed at the highest levels, that swimmers leaving the wall towards the back after the IM freestyle flip turn should be DQ’d. That being said, I wouldn’t take an anonymous posters word on the subject and recommend that you reach out to your LSC Officials Chair.

About Braden Keith

Braden Keith

Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder of He first got his feet wet by building The Swimmers' Circle beginning in January 2010, and now comes to SwimSwam to use that experience and help build a new leader in the sport of swimming. Aside from his life on the InterWet, …

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