Olympian Tom Shields’ Take On The New FINA World Cup Rules

Last week, FINA released what the organization referred to as ‘innovations’ to its annual World Cup Series format, which included changes to event line-ups and prize money. Among the notable ‘improvements’ were instilling a maximum number of races of 4 per swimmer per leg, with another regulation enabling each event to be swum now just twice per leg and up to 6 times during the Series.

We provided analysis on what these changes mean for the World Cup’s biggest presence, Hungary’s Katinka Hosszu, but the Iron Lady isn’t the only one to take issue with the ripple effect of how the 2017 World Cup changes will play out. SwimSwam recently spoke with American record holder and 2016 Olympian Tom Shields regarding how he, a regular on the World Cup circuit, will personally be impacted by the new rules. Below are just two tweets posted by Shields in response to FINA’s announcement, followed by our Q&A with the butterfly ace.

When did you hear/read of the World Cup rule changes? How did you know about them?

SHIELDS: Heard about them when SwimSwam wrote the articles (laughs).

You had tweeted, “We are an obscure sport. I can see the ?’s already.”…..can you please elaborate on what questions you’re picturing?

SHIELDS: Just as to why some meets were full schedule and some meets were not. It does not now seem like this is the case, but the info packets for each stop are so incomplete/incorrect I had some bad information at the time of that tweet. I now looks like each cluster will have every event twice. I do not see the point of this, but at least it is a little more fair than having some events twice and others thrice through the course of a cluster.

This will limit specialists’ or single event peoples’ abilities to impact the cluster rankings, with fewer chances to get higher FINA point swims per event, and seems to benefit overall versatile athletes. I can actually see the argument of how in theory this may bring in more interest from versatile stars. But, those seem to be a dying breed.

You also stated that FINA’s job is ‘not to further remove common sense and spirit of competition.’ What specifically within the new rules cuts away at common sense? At competitive spirit?

SHIELDS: Well at the time–again–I thought they would run full schedule at some meets and not at others, adding some unfair advantage to whatever swim events would be at every meet. Which would be unfair, and is not the case, hopefully.

But it was also about the automatic berth to finals for ‘certain’ medalists. From what I’ve read not all medalists are equals in this regard, and need an invite to the meet for this advantage. While it may increase the ‘show’ factor, where these athletes can engage with the fans, FINA looks to be not giving these spots out in a fair way based on medals.

Look, I get that some people are more famous than others and that not all medals weigh the same, and that’s well and good, the way it should be. It would be the first real time where this populism explicitly effects the sport and its performance outcomes, and that would be detrimental to what swimming is about. Racing sports require equal footing between athletes. I may be mistaken, these things may not be the case as I was told them/read about them, FINA may offer those options to all medalists–which is also not a good idea and unfair to the local club athletes or anyone trying to climb the ladder–but at least would be consistent.

Do you believe FINA when they say they got input from other athletes and those questioned bought in to the plan? Any idea what FINA thinks is the benefit to having Olympic/World Champions go straight to finals?

SHIELDS: I think they listened to a few athletes/coaches and enacted their conflicted ideas. While some would like the 4 event cap, especially females, they may not like the fact they only get two 50 breasts per cluster vs three. Others, who do not like the cap on swims, may like skipping prelims. It really looks like no one got they want, everybody’s confused or angry, attendance from both a fan and ‘superstar’ standpoint will not go up, and the rankings probably will not change all that much, to be honest.

Which of the recent rules do you take most issue with personally?

SHIELDS: 4 events per meet is actually relatively fair from a certain perspective, but I do not know if it may have been a personal grudge that made it be enforced. If that is true, that is a bummer. But unless Katie makes her way over and takes the cups relatively serious, no one was touching Katinka on the women’s side. You have to address that, we want to sell competition, not one person destroying everyone. At least we should want that. But, I do sympathize with the feeling that FINA came out to knock someone down. That is not a good feeling, nor a good look. I definitely see both sides on the 4 event cap, especially since FINA has not enacted an event cap at any meet before (as far as I know). Like, I’ve thought about this a lot, and it comes down to two main points for either side:

—this change will help the women’s side be more competitive
—nobody ever told Michael his range was too large, or his impact too big, or he made too much money.

I had consistently done 4-7 events at the cups, often medalling in all of them. It was cool, if you are tough enough, you make it work. Now, I do not know how it will effect me overall. It may harm, and that’ll suck, but at least everyone else is set to the same standard.

Which brings me to the “most stupid” rule, which would be automatic finals berth for medalists. It is, at its heart, unfair. Medalists will show up out of shape and waste a finals spot, or in “deep training” and do the same. It will not work out well.

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3 years ago

Great Interview, Tom seems very intelligent. I’d love if we could get more of this athlete’s perspective on some issue/etc. articles!

Go Bearcats
Reply to  DMacNCheez
3 years ago

Berkeley education

Tom from Chicago
Reply to  DMacNCheez
3 years ago

This is a good view by Shields. The athletes should have more input than politicians.

bobo gigi
3 years ago

FINA at its best!
But honestly, who cares about world cups?

Reply to  bobo gigi
3 years ago


Coach John
Reply to  bobo gigi
3 years ago

the swimmers that need it to for the racing experience (racing faster swimmers) or for the money…. it’s not a nothing meet Bobo. Also a lot of swim fans.

Reply to  bobo gigi
3 years ago

If you take and promote that attitude, swimming as we know itis going to die. World Cup needs to be promoted more not denigrated!

3 years ago

Great point about phelps, no one in 2007 said look this is boring now he can only swim a certain number of events. This just weakens our sport, why wouldn’t we want Hoszu winning everything, she’s possibly the best female on the planet (Ledecky aside) so fina wants to promote the sport better and try and encourage more to come and race, yet face weaker fields. You can’t help think someone has said this isn’t right Hoszu, Chad etc winning so much, what they don’t get is USA doesn’t care to an extent, college kids won’t come and can’t speak for most of Europe but GB doesn’t care about short course either, it suits people who enjoy travel and incorporated… Read more »

About Retta Race

Retta Race

After 16 years at a Fortune 1000 financial company, long-time swimmer Retta Race decided to change lanes and pursue her sporting passion. She currently is Coach for the Northern KY Swordfish Masters, a team she started up in December 2013, while also offering private coaching. Retta is also an MBA …

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