Official Language of FINA’s New Underwater Interpretation as of Junior Worlds

FINA has made it clear it plans to officially clarify the interpretation of underwater kicking rules within IM races, and we’ve got a blueprint for what the new interpretation might look like.

SwimSwam has learned that a written interpretation of the rule was distributed to officials at last week’s FINA World Junior Championships, giving some insights into what the exact language of the new interpretation will look like when it is submitted later this year.

Some background: U.S. star Ryan Lochte began using a new underwater kicking technique this summer, staying on his back for all of his underwater kickouts on both backstroke and freestyle.

But at the FINA World Championships, rumblings began that Lochte could be disqualified for his new technique in IM races, if officials interpreted underwater kicking on one’s back as technically “backstroke” – swimming backstroke on the freestyle portion of an IM is illegal.

Lochte won the 200 IM without a DQ, but said after the race he believed the rule would soon be changed.

Last week, Germany’s SwimSportNews reported that FINA had declared Lochte’s technique officially illegal, and FINA’s executive director Cornel Marculescu told SwimSwam that the new interpretation of the rule would be officially submitted in November.

That interpretation is very likely to mirror the one distributed to officials at Junior Worlds. We’ve got that interpretation below:

FINA Technical Committee Medley 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.


FINA Rulebook references for the TSC interpretation.



SW 5.1

“except that in individual medley or medley relay events, freestyle means any style other than backstroke, breaststroke or butterfly.”



SW 6.1 to SW 6.5

There are no kick or stroke requirements.  The swimmer “must push off and swim upon his back throughout the race”  “Some part of the swimmer must break the surface of the water throughout the race.”  Except for the 15 m at the start and turn.



SW 7.1 to SW 7.6

There are specific stroke and kick requirements.


SW 8.1 to SW 8.5

There are specific stroke and kick requirements.



SW 9.1  Each of the strokes must cover one quarter (1/4) of the distance.

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Funny how FINA has made no comment about the butterfly kick in freestyle though…..technically that would be the stroke of fly applying this rule….


So how about leaving the wall on your side and then kicking on your back? Seems that is legal by the rule.

Kirk Nelson

FINA’s interpretation seems to be that if you are on your back, you are swimming backstroke. It doesn’t matter how you push off the wall.

The flaw in this argument, of course, is many swimmers have always been on their backs (right after they push off the turn) during the “free” portion of an IM event, they just didn’t remain on their back like Lochte did. Strict intepretation of FINA’s rules would mean you better be turned toward the breast as soon as your feet leave the wall during the free portion of an IM race.

James Adams

Well said Kirk! 🙂 Looks like I need to keep myself up on the rules before next summer’s Nats


I’m still not seeing a legal justification for outlawing what Lochte did. From the rulebook cited in this article for backstroke:

“There are no kick or stroke requirements. The swimmer ‘must push off and swim upon his back throughout the race’.”

If you push off on your back, but change to your side or your stomach, that’s not backstroke. Or am I misunderstanding the backstroke rules?


It has nothing to do with the backstroke rules. The issue is that Lochte was doing a “backstroke” kick/streamline during the “freestyle” portion of the IM.


Per this article and everything else I’ve seen on the topic, FINA is saying that’s illegal because Lochte was doing backstroke.

However, the rulebook says for backstroke that the swimmer must push off and swim upon his back throughout the race. If the swimmer isn’t staying on his back, that’s not backstroke, *per the current rules*

My question still stands. Unless FINA changes that portion of the backstroke rule, they will have two contradictory rules.


By your logic – If a swimmer swims 49 yards/meters on his back, then rolls to his stomach for the last meter it wouldn’t be considered backstroke… I think if you swim any part of the race on your back, that is considered backstroke.


Or are you trying to say that if you do not perform the 2nd part of the backstroke requirement, ie. the swimming on your back part, you do not fulfill all requirements for the backstroke event? I can see what you are saying, but I think doing even one part of the requirements equates to swimming the stroke.


Well, in the rulebook, there are two requirements for it to be considered backstroke: 1) That you’re on your back 2) That you stay on your back the entire time, not counting any flip turns Lochte met requirement #1, but did not meet requirement #2. Currently, you get DQd in a backstroke race if you turn from your back while not in the process of doing a flipturn, as moving from your back means you’re no longer doing backstroke. That’s where I want more clarification from FINA. The rulebook says you must be on your back the entire time for it to be backstroke. Per that wording, if you only stay on your back to a certain point and then… Read more »

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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