SMU sophomore Rachel Balke models her team-issued nose clip above
No more than a few years ago, whenever a new swim parent asked if their child could swim in a nose-clip while swimming backstroke to keep water out of their noses, the answer was usually one of uncertainty.
Thoughts of “well…I’m not sure if those are legal” and “no, she’ll get laughed out of the pool!” would cross a coach’s mind, before giving some more politically-correct response about the importance of learning proper breath control when a swimmer is on their back.
But nowadays, as they say, is a whole different ball game. The nose clips are here to stay.
Nose clips are not a brand new phenomenon, but they are now reaching a critical mass to where, like caps and goggles, it will be odder for a swimmer to be without them than with them (at the least in backstroke races).
At this year’s USA Swimming National Championships, no fewer than three of the A-Finalists (including National Champion and wunderkind Missy Franklin) were clearly observed wearing nose clips. Several college teams, including SMU who boasts defending 100 back B-Final champion Therese Svendsen amongst their ranks, have begun handing them out to their entire programs.
The theory is pretty easy. In the backstroke especially, the fastest part of the race is by far underwater (as former Texas Longhorn Hill Taylor demonstrated so famously in this video). The limiting factor, especially at the elite level, is rarely the ability of swimmers to hold their breath for the legal-maximum of 15 yards/meters, rather to go that 15 yards/meters while blowing enough air out of their noses to keep themselves from swallowing a gallon-and-a-half of water through their noses.
This, like all new swimming innovations, will be met with shyness and skepticism, especially in the youth and high school ranks. But don’t be afraid to try it out. If anybody questions you, you’ve got the professional support of the best backstrokers in the world to back you up. Lots of companies make these nose clips, and they’re pretty cheap, so don’t be afraid to try out a couple of different kinds until you find one that works. My personal favorite are Speedo’s silicone clips, because they maximize comfort. They can be purchased for less than four bucks a pair from Swimoutlet.com. Be sure to use practice to get used to them before trying them out in a race.
Of course, the advent of these clips mean that FINA probably won’t ever eliminate the 15-meter-underwater rule (yes, there are still those who preferred swimming before that rule was put in place), or else they’ll make the nose-clips illegal. These nose-clips serve to push the equilibrium back in favor of the underwater swimmers and the overwater swimmers. With nose clips, the great underwater backstrokers, like Natalie Coughlin, will move further to the forefront while those who specialized above the water, like Aaron Peirsol, will be forced to adapt to keep up. This is good news for the Americans, who have revolutionized international swimming with the underwater mastery of swimmers like Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte.
The invasion is here, so be sure to catch the front-end of the wave, or be left in its wake.