Swimming Australia Calls McKeown’s DQ “Unjust,” and They Might Have a Point

In a rare move, Swimming Australia has made a public comment disputing a disqualification at the World Championships, calling the decision “unjust.”

“McKeown and Australian officials are labelling her disqualification as unjust after judges ruled a stroke violation in her transition from backstroke to breaststroke in a semi-final on Sunday night,” a press release from the governing body on Monday read, and they might have a point.

And not because McKeown’s turn was illegal – it probably was, though very close.

It was because American Alex Walsh, the silver medalist in Monday’s final, had an illegal technique in the same turn in the lane right next to her in the semi-final – and was perhaps even more blatantly illegal early in the final.

The ruling that McKeown was disqualified for came on the backstroke-to-breaststroke turn while using a technique called the Crossover Turn. In short, that technique allows a swimmer to touch on their back just passing vertical for a rotation to their stomach, and then doing a quick flipturn. Most of the world’s elite IM’ers use that turn now.

Screenshots of race video from McKeown and Walsh just before the turn reveal that both were rotated past the point of verticality in the semi-final, and Walsh was even moreso past vertical in the final.

McKeown Semi-Final (Called)

Walsh Semi-Final (Uncalled)

Walsh Final (Uncalled)

All three look past-vertical prior to the touch. In real-time, McKeown’s was probably the most obvious because she initiated the turn so early (Michael Phelps in the NBC booth posited that she had a brain-blank and started a backstroke turn before trying to salvage a crossover turn).

But her hips, at least, were still sort of vertical, and on screencapture, hers looks less egregious than those of Walsh.

Australian National Team coach Rohan Tayor publicly challenged the call, saying “I disagree, 100 percent.”

It’s probably very close. I don’t think any neutral observer would disagree 100 percent. But there’s some room, at least, for disagreement.

World Aquatics confirmed on Monday that McKeown’s disqualification was initiated from the video replay booth, not the officials on deck, and those same video replay officials seem to have missed Walsh’s infraction next to her.

Swim fans should be rioting at the inconsistency. In the NBA, federal investigations would be launched. If this were soccer, international courts would pursue match-fixing complaints. Not that officiating is perfect in either of those leagues, but at least the video replay systems seem to usually work.

Instead, the reaction in swimming is usually to simply make the rules more lenient in reaction, as was seen with Kosuke Kitajima and the dolphin kick on breaststroke, or Justin Ress’ backstroke finish at last year’s World Championships.

While that certainly makes it easier to not disqualify athletes, it seems like the tools to call the existing rules consistently exist in most cases (maybe not in breaststroke dolphin kicks because of the fine line), but that technology isn’t being utilized properly.

In absence of McKeown in the final, American Kate Douglass won in 2:07.17, Walsh was 2nd in 2:07.97, and China’s Yu Yiting was 3rd in 2:08.74.

McKeown Moving Forward

“I had a bit of a cry,” McKeown said after her 100m backstroke heat swim on Monday in Fukuoka. “A bit of an emotional rollercoaster but it’s sport and it’s what happens in sport. Unfortunately some people just get the bad hand and I got dealt that bad hand.

“It’s just a matter of trying to flip it into a positive. We have footage and other angles that say otherwise to what the officials saw.”

Swimming governing bodies have consistently refused to release all angles used to make calls in the pool, so the rest of the world is left with public television angles to review those decisions.

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Gregg Tye
2 months ago

McKeown appears to be a far distance out from the wall-touch at that instant of her turn – as if performing a mid-pool drill. As Phelps said, a brain blank…. However, using the hand-touch for a Backstroke TURN is just an inconsistent application of the rules. The transition from Back-to-Breast is A TURN; not a “finish”!!! So FINA, get rid of the crazy “finish” interpretation of this TURN rule, and DROP THE HAND TOUCH from the TURN in the middle of the IM. Bring a level of common sense to the future of this mindless turn rule interpretation. Having a wall-touch involved in any TURN where Backstroke is being performed, is simply madness. Swimmers are known as bright people in… Read more »

2 months ago

I thought Leon Marchand had also performed a similar turn breaking the Phelps record. We couldn’t disqualify the golden boy, though

Reply to  Dustin
2 months ago

You won’t see those still shots

2 months ago

are there underwater cameras in use at this meet?

Fukuoka Gold
Reply to  ktbtodd
2 months ago


2 months ago

MeKeown is still half a meter from the wall in the above photo. She went way past halfway and her head was totally submerged before she touched. Walsh SHOULD have been DQd. But this photo of McKeown is meaningless from a comparison standpoint. Walsh’s infraction was clear. McKeown’s was laughable.

Fukuoka Gold
2 months ago

Name and shame the judges who allowed Alex Walsh to cheat.

Awsi Dooger
2 months ago

I’m surprised this article wasn’t posted a day earlier. NBC used the slow motion of the turn with Phelps and Rowdy emphasizing McKeown’s foul. Meanwhile, Walsh was clearly visible in the adjacent lane. I was saying out loud, “Isn’t she doing the same thing?”

They all do it to some extent. Douglass actually benefits because she misses the turns so badly she ends up gliding crunched to the wall and has an awkward flip. McKeown and Walsh are more obvious because they are fully stretched.

It should be changed to a standard flip turn. Nobody is going to benefit from stopping backstroke 5 meters away and gliding in before the flip. I don’t know what else they could be fearing.

Nick the biased Aussie
2 months ago

Name and shame the officials!

Last edited 2 months ago by Nick the biased Aussie
Reply to  Nick the biased Aussie
2 months ago

Yes let’s name and shame some ordinary folks who probably took unpaid time off from work to officiate, for a per diem barely enough to cover lunch and gas.

Fukuoka Gold
Reply to  Atohitotsu
2 months ago

This is world championships, not your local swim meet

2 months ago

It’s a terrible rule that needs to be abolished. Since it’s legal to turn onto your stomach going into a turn and touching the wall with the hand isn’t required during a backstroke race, it makes no sense to outlaw the same position and process in the IM. A turn is not the finish even if changing strokes.

Last edited 2 months ago by Phroggy
Nick the biased Aussie
Reply to  Phroggy
2 months ago

Let them do a backstroke flip turn and we’ll see both 200 IM WR’s go pretty quickly.

Reply to  Nick the biased Aussie
2 months ago

If I had my way they’d eliminate the rule after the records are reset. Of course it doesn’t work that way.

Reply to  Phroggy
2 months ago

Rule change from “finish rules apply” in transition turns to “turn rules apply”. Easy peasy. Fair and prevents injuries!

Last edited 2 months ago by Anonymous

About Braden Keith

Braden Keith

Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder/co-owner of SwimSwam.com. 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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