Slo-Mo Photo Gallery: Controversial False Starts From ACCs

In an NCAA conference week plagued by a flood of relay DQs, photographs of ACC relay exchanges add support to the theory that step-over starts are causing legal relay starts to take DQs from official timing systems.

What are Step-Over Starts And How Could They Cause False Positives?

SwimSwam’s own Mitch Bowmile wrote at length on the issue yesterday, and you can read his piece here. The crux of the idea is that a rash of false start DQs could be caused by the rising popularity of step-over starts. As swimming has legalized and normalized the presence of starting wedges on starting blocks, swimmers have incorporated them more and more into their races. The latest development to really take hold in a wide-spread way is to use the wedge for relay starts, beginning with one foot on the wedge and one foot behind it, then stepping over the wedge and placing the foot at the very front of the block while launching oneself into the water.

The theorized issue with this start is that swimmers aren’t tripping the official “Relay Judging Platforms” or RJPs. An RJP sits on top of the block and records a swimmers feet touching the top surface of the block. RJPs are used in connection with touchpads to record relay exchange times – the system records a touch on the touchpad and also records when the swimmer’s feet leave the RJP. The time in between is the relay reaction time. 0.07 seconds would be a great relay exchange; -0.07 seconds would be a recorded false start.

But if the RJP can’t track the swimmer’s feet on the block – for instance, if a swimmer starts with their weight behind and/or on top of the wedge, and if the front foot plants so far at the front of the block that it doesn’t on the RJP – then the relay exchange system would be thrown off. That, some coaches, swimmers and fans say, could be causing “false positives,” or relay exchanges that are perfectly legal but that record as false starts on the timing system.

Relay Start Gallery

With that long-winded explanation out of the way, here’s a look at two relay exchanges from the Women’s ACC Championships. Swim parent Rick Jones took screenshots of meet video, and when viewed together, they serve as almost a slow-motion video of each relay exchange.

The first exchange is from Duke’s 200 Medley Relay. Butterflyer Alyssa Marsh swims in for freesytler Maddie Rusch and the system officially records the reaction time as -0.07 – technically an illegal false start. But the photographic evidence does show Rusch using a step-over start. You can be the judge of whether the illegal reaction time appears correct or not. The Duke relay was not DQ’d, as no relay can be DQ’d on a recorded reaction time alone – an official must also call the false start for an official DQ to be made.

The second exchange is from Virginia’s 200 Medley Relay. Butterflyer Ellen Thomas swims in for freestyler Caitlin CooperThe system once again records an illegal -0.08 reaction time. Virginia was officially DQ’d for a false start. The DQ is significant because the loss of 54 points (what UVA would have gotten for third place) could impact the team points race, where UVA currently trails NC State by just 26.5 with one day remaining.

Each relay exchange is posted as a gallery below. You can see a sort of slow-motion video by using the arrows to flow through the gallery. You can also see the original photos on Rick Jones’ Facebook page, where they are also sorted into galleries. Thanks to Rick for taking the screenshots and providing them to SwimSwam.

Duke Relay Exchange

Duke is in lane 7, second from the bottom, marked by the yellow arrow.

Reaction time was recorded as -0.07.

Virginia Relay Exchange

Virginia is in lane 4, fourth from the top, marked by the yellow arrow.

The recorded reaction time was -0.08.

In This Story

Leave a Reply

16 Comment threads
23 Thread replies
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
27 Comment authors
newest oldest most voted

Jared. See those poles next to the blocks? They are 100 frames per second High Speed Video cameras that confirms the DQs. Your screen cap video is a terrible way to judge this.

You can’t see the touch on the pad, you can’t see the hands of the swimmer underwater, and you the camera is not straight down the start/finish. All of these factors make it impossible to make the judgement. This is why the HSV is above the block and shoots down.

Show us then

Show us the video from those then. If they used them, then show up the proof. What is there to hide? Why not release the photos of the “obvious” false starts?


You’ll have to ask the NCAA to do this. There is nothing to hide.

Show us then – for what it’s worth, USA Swimming refused to show us videos of DQs at the Olympic Trials, and in fact at one point lambasted us when we were asked by the video crew (they asked us, not vice versa) to go check out the equipment. Not the actual videos, just the equipment, in between sessions. For whatever reason, the administration of this sport just doesn’t seem to believe in transparency with officiating decisions the way that the NBA, NFL, MLB, etc. have embraced over the last few seasons. Interestingly, college volleyball instituted a video review system at the Final 4 this year, which will be expanded next year. Not sure what about volleyball makes it easier… Read more »


It has always troubled me that the review video isn’t made public as well. I can somewhat understand it for things like stroke infractions, because ultimately it is still a judgement call even with video replay. Releasing the video can make life very difficult for stroke and turn judges. But for things like 15m infraction and relay takeovers (which didn’t exist for Trials), those video should be clear cut. I guess they decide it’s better to not open Pandora’s box?


Thanks for this Braden. I believe we all would support you in continuing to ask for copies of the video reviews. It is weird that they wouldn’t want more people to see what constitutes a DQ. Not only are we as fans curious, but we as coaches (and officials) should see video of what is a DQ and what is not at meets with high stakes to help avoid our swimmers from making the same mistakes. Fight on!


That would of been great if the cameras were actually used. Up to now the video footage on those cameras has never been reviewed. I heard from someone official on deck that the “computer made the call, not the official.” And that makes sense per the rule and exactly what happened at SECs. But at ACCs, there were 4 other teams on the same leg with a differential between -.09 and +.09 that were not DQ’d. That means “human intervention” was used in addition to the computer. That is not how the rule reads. Those cameras above the blocks should have been used to confirm or deny the differential for all teams. But that is not how the rule reads.… Read more »


This is only partially true. It depends on the system. SEC and ACC meets are using different systems. ACC has an OMEGA system which has the 100 FPS video backup system that an ACC Official would be looking at to determine if a relay infraction occurred. This is why you see some DQ and some not DQ even if the differential is negative. Typically, the computer is the sole arbiter unless the technician determined there is a issue with the electronic timing. This can happen in a variety of ways, including the swimmer not triggering the pads properly. This is why the backup camera is critical and is used in all international competition including the Olympics. The NCAA and USA… Read more »


This is underlined in the rules:

If using RJP’s: if the machine records between +/- .09 then it is the sole arbiter –
there is no human involvement in the call.


“The Duke relay was not DQ’d, as no relay can be DQ’d on a recorded reaction time alone – an official must also call the false start for an official DQ to be made.” I believe that RickJ is exactly right and that this sentence is incorrect. Read Article 6c of the NCAA Rules. This was specifically emphasized in the Pre-Championships Memo “If using RJP’s: if the machine records between +/- .09 then it is the sole arbiter – there is no human involvement in the call.” If video review is being used it is automatically triggered when (per the memo) “4. When using video review, a review is required when either a. If both human judges independently record opposite… Read more »


Correct BARBOTUS, in every instance that a video back up is available, relay DQs are always reviewed. Which is what happened in this case. A negative differential can be the result of miss/light touch on the pad.


Are you an official at the meet? I heard from an official at the meet that the video was NOT reviewed because the computer made the call. The results Monday night were posted within 10 minutes after the race. Another official said the video review would be Tuesday afternoon since the “video replay experts” were not around Monday night. If that is the case the results should have been held until the video was actually reviewed. Latest I heard yesterday was the video was not reviewed. My guess is the cameras were not turned on/working. The purpose of my pictures and comments is to make sure the rules and process is accurate, fair, and unbiased in the future. To make… Read more »


Plus, they can’t even spell Ella Eastin’s name right on the hy-tek file of the records.


As far as I know you cannot use video to overturn or confirm a DQ. Only if the equipment is functioning properly. The question is whether a wedge step up start causes the machine to malfunction. IMO this rule leaves entirely too much up to individual referees to determine what constitutes a malfunction. One could argue the type of start the swimmer does causes the machine to malfunction (hop step/double step up/wedge step up). From the rulebook (last sentence is important): “The referee shall review the video to determine if there was a machine malfunction and clear video evidence exists to overturn the call. Challenges by coaches are not permitted as part of this rule. To use such equipment, the… Read more »


Also, stepping on top of the block does not trigger it. This is not how the RJD system work (at least that’s not how the OMEGA system works).


Serious question: is there a sensor on the wedge? With a wedge step up, your foot leaves the back of the block and only contact is with wedge.


Looks to me like both were correctly called, Duke safe and UVA early. Good job by the officials, but concerning that the RPT technology can’t get it right.


I agree, both were early take-overs and correctly disqualified. There is no evidence the preceding swimmer has made contact with the wall prior to the other swimmer leaving the starting platform. False positives certainly exist, but not in this instance.

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 …

Read More »

Want to take your swimfandom to the next level?

Subscribe to SwimSwam Magazine!