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.
(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.