VIDEO: An Examination on FINA’s Tweak to the Backstroke Finish Rules

  45 Braden Keith | May 14th, 2014 | College, Featured, Industry, Masters, National, News, Video

Two weeks ago, a group of swimmers from the Chattahoochee Gold Swim Club in Atlanta, Georgia went viral when they Tweeted a picture at us of a full 8 swimmers who were disqualified for illegal backstroke finishes, and specifically for submerging at the finish.

While the inability to submerge prior to touching the wall isn’t new, FINA recently changed the wording of the finish rules so as to emphasize this portion of the rule, and it has been noticed. Especially as we head into the long course season, officials at every level across the country have been calling this rule with some frequency.

Because the rule still was causing some confusion, we asked two of our video producers, Jenna Haufler and Hugh Berryman, to put together a video demonstrating the difference between a legal backstroke finish and an illegal backstroke finish.

With the help of Jean-Paul Gowdy, the head coach of Pomona-Pitzer’s swim team, and a few of his swimmers, Haufler and Berryman explain and demonstrate the subtle differences between a legal and illegal backstroke finish.

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45 Comments on "VIDEO: An Examination on FINA’s Tweak to the Backstroke Finish Rules"

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2 years 5 months ago

So where is the video?

2 years 5 months ago

Where is the video?

Backstroker For Life
2 years 5 months ago

This rule is dumb to me! Butterflyers can finish under the water, why can’t backstrokers?! It’s too picky. A swimmer’s body may break down and cause them to be tired and just misjudge the finish. You don’t hear stories about people abusing the old rule so why change it to something so picky!?

2 years 5 months ago

I’ve been called for this several times as an age group swimmer. People abuse it all the time, and then they get DQ’ed and learn. Not knowing where the wall is shouldn’t be a valid excuse, thats why we practice.

2 years 5 months ago

No, it is illegal to be fully submerged in Butterfly after 15 meters. I’ve seen it called on Butterflyers as well.

A Referee
2 years 5 months ago

Actually – the rule is that butterfly swimmers must have some part of their head surface by the 15m mark. They can be submerged until then and thereafter UNLESS their arms are doing a recovery (forward movement) which must be made over the water. Semantics – yes but it’s those fine details that determine whether a swimmer is performing a legal or illegal stroke.

2 years 5 months ago

There are (IMHO) several problems with this rule and it’s implementation:

1: if there is a wave, due to wind or wake, as the swimmer finishes and it covers him he is disqualified even if there is no downward lunge.

2: this call has to be made from the side judge and not a judge on the finish end of the pool. A 6ft swimmer is almost 10ft long (finger tips to toes). It is unfair to shorter and younger swimmers to dq them due to their (lack of) size. I do not know of another rule that is ok if you’re “too tall to view the whole body” and not if you’re shorter.

3: official training sessions over this rule prior the morning of a meet always results in a significant increase in these disqualifications. Whether judged correctly or not there is no course of action (outside of protesting a meet) as it turns into a coach vs official issue. Video is not allowed to overturn a call. I have seen many swimmers with a leg clearly out of the water dqed because the shoulders and hips are “deep” underwater.

4: this call should also be made in the middle of the pool for swimmers who submerge on one side due to poor technique, and also during the back to breast turn in the IMs.

5: it is legal to finish underwater in the other three strokes, why is the backstroke finish so special? My understanding is the original rule was to deter underwater dolphin kicks after the 15m mark. Surely allowing something like zero or one dolphin kick at the finish would be easier to officiate than the current rule.

Steve Nolan
2 years 5 months ago

Agree with a lot of these points – especially b/c the “legal” lunge finishes shown on the above video look a hell of a lot like the illegal ones.

2 years 5 months ago

Allowing “Zero or one dolphin kick” didn’t really maintain the integrity of breaststroke. Still, good points

2 years 5 months ago

It is not legal to finish underwater on butterfly.

FINA SW 8.5 At the start and at turns, a swimmer is permitted one or more leg kicks and one arm pull under the water, which must bring him to the surface. It shall be permissible for a swimmer to be completely submerged for a distance of not more than 15 metres after the start and after each turn. By that point, the head must have broken the surface. The swimmer must remain on the surface until the next turn or finish.

It is not legal to finish underwater on breaststroke.

FINA SW 7.6 At each turn and at the finish of the race, the touch shall be made with both hands simultaneously at, above, or below the water level. The head may be submerged after the last arm pull prior to the touch, provided it breaks the surface of the water at some point during the last complete or incomplete cycle preceding the touch.

2 years 5 months ago

The rules you listed clearly state that it is legal to finish underwater in fly and breaststroke.

“The swimmer must remain on the surface until the next turn or finish.” That last word finish means that a swimmer can submerge on the finish.

“The head may be submerged after the last arm pull prior to the touch, provided it breaks the surface of the water at some point during the last complete or incomplete cycle preceding the touch.” This states that the head may be underwater during the finish as long as it broke the surface during the last stroke cycle.

The backstroke rule is outdated and always seems to be made as a gut by the official. In my opinion these are the worst kind of rules. A DQ should either be a clear violation of a rule or the call should not be made.

2 years 5 months ago

The Glossary of the USA Swimming rulebook defines the finish as “the instant that a swimmer touches the wall at the end of the prescribed distance.” Hence the swimmer must remain on the surface until the instant that he/she touches the wall.

2 years 5 months ago

To Anonymouse’s points:
1. How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?
2. While it’s easier to see and call from the side, it’s certainly not impossible to see this violation from the finish end of the pool. It has nothing to do with the size of the swimmer.
3. A coach is always permitted to question the Referee regarding a call. Under certain circumstances video may be used to review a call (Rule 102.22.14); those circumstances do not include the iPhone video shot by someone’s Mom or by a coach.
4. Once the swimmer’s head has broken the surface of the water, the call should be made if he/she fully re-submerges, regardless of where it occurs in the pool. Not sure what you mean by “submerge on one side.”
5. As many here have pointed out, it is illegal to be fully submerged prior to the finish in Butterfly and Freestyle. It is a possibility in Breaststroke if the head had broken the surface at some point during the last complete or incomplete cycle preceding the touch. And dolphin kicks are perfectly legal at any point in Backstroke.

2 years 5 months ago

#3. Make sure you ask the meet referee for clarification to be made, not the stroke and turn that made the call. You aren’t supposed to talk to them directly about calls.

Ask for clarification, specifically what they saw and if they are sure of it. Good chief judges and meet referees will hear and dig for any reason to go in favor of a swimmer. Humans make errors in judgement and if a stroke and turn judge has any doubt in a call, they are supposed to err on the side of the swimmer and not make the call.

2 years 5 months ago

Will USA Swimming implement this rule?

[email protected]
2 years 5 months ago

The problem I have is the “official” explanation that it doesn’t change the rule but merely clarifies a semantic ambiguity does not hold up when more swimmers are DQ for swimming submerged infraction . Something has obviously changed, more likely in officials briefing. The issue is when do you focus on the touch, which requires a shift in the eyes from looking at the whole body and instead focusing on the touch, to ensure a legal finish? Once the eyes shift you cannot “see” the entire body and therefore cannot make the “submerged” call. Since we want to fairly judge both rules it makes logical sense to change the wording to explicitly allow the “submerged at the finish”. That way the official can judge that the athlete swims on the surface (after 15m mark) and finishes on the back.

2 years 5 months ago

Excellent video! I was a little puzzled on the rule change, but not anymore. Very informative!

2 years 5 months ago

I didn’t understand, in which way they had to finish previously?

2 years 5 months ago

This rule isn’t anything new, you have never been able to be totally submerged at the finish. Like they said in the video, USA Swimming isn’t changing anything about the call they make, they are just changing the wording so the swimmers know to not dive down.

2 years 5 months ago

Not exactly. You’ve never been able to be fully submerged prior to the finish. The Glossary of the rulebook defines the finish as “the instant that a swimmer touches the wall at the end of the prescribed distance.” In the Stroke part of the backstroke, butterfly, and freestyle rules, it says “Some part of the swimmer must break the surface of the water throughout the race,” with the exception of the first 15 meters after the start or a turn.

But you’re correct that it isn’t anything new. The question shouldn’t be why are there so many calls now, but rather why weren’t there more calls previously?

2 years 5 months ago

A theory (based on little more than intuition):

Doing a lunge-dolphin kick gives you a slight burst of speed, but then you slow down because you lose the consistent propulsion of the flutter kick. Think how in fly/breast, velocity depends on where in the stroke cycle you are. In free/back, total velocity is much more consistent.

In the last 2 meters of a race, I believe a lot of swimmers lunge to get a burst of speed, but ALSO TO BE GOING SLOWER WHEN THEY TOUCH THE WALL. Why would swimmers want to finish into the wall at LESS than full velocity? Because even the best swimmers can misjudge the wall by a few inches. Finishing off-kilter, with an arm over-extended or bonking your wrist on the wall, isn’t just awkward… swimmers have been known to break fingers doing such things. I think a lunge at the end of a race is safer, both in terms of physical safety and a reliable finish.

2 years 5 months ago

So are your for or against? The post sounds like you are against a lunge into the wall, but the last sentence says you favor it.

2 years 5 months ago

I have always been taught that the finish end official is a disadvantage when viewing this type of lunging finish. Just prior to the finish can you really be sure that while focusing on the shoulders and thus a proper “on the back” finish can you see that the entire body is submerged? if the swimmer is 1-2 meters from the wall and is totally submerged then a DQ can be made by the finish judge. However, I believe that once the swimmer is close to the wall in the lunging style finish that a stroke judge is the only one that can make the call. The video clearly shows the stroke judge’s perspective and how easy it is to make the submerged call. What is not shown is the finish judge’s perspective and how difficult it is to make the call that close to the wall. Remember that the benefit of the doubt goes to the swimmer.

Chief Judges and Referees need to be doing a better job of questioning those finish end officials that are making this call. While I believe that I have seen many illegal finishes while working as a finish end official I have only raised my hand once in 10 years as I was totally sure of the infraction and it occurred at a distance of greater than one meter from the wall.

Lane 0
2 years 5 months ago

I never get why swimmers dive backwards underwater at the finish. They don’t do it in freestyle (but I think it has been tried). The best thing to do in backstroke is reach back with one arm and rotate almost on to your side to get extra reach, like a freestyle finish… on your back

Kirk Nelson
2 years 5 months ago

I think so, too. Also by diving down you are not taking the shortest route from point A to point B.

2 years 5 months ago

Hooray for geometry!

Swim Dad
2 years 4 months ago

…And coast in like a 6 & Under summer leaguer? Any kid that has whacked his arm, hand, or finger knows why people lunge. After an injury to the arm, my kids changed to the lunge. I can’t wait to see all the casts on the sideline of the pool! I haven’t heard a good explanation for why this was “clarified”. This isn’t safe. Let’s just say no more strokes after the flag and ruin the backstroke completely!

2 years 5 months ago

I agree with the spirit of the rule (don’t just reach, dive, and dolphin til you touch the wall and then claim that’s a normal finish) but in execution it seems to result in more questionable calls than fair DQ’s. The point about butterfly is fair, in that a lunging finish in butterfly where the swimmer is submerged will not result in a DQ. However, the inherent vertical component of fly justifies this more than backstroke, I think.

And as BigDave pointed out above, the finish judge is in the worst position to judge this. The judges along the side are in a much better position. The fact is, for 90% of finishes, it’s going to be impossible for the official to know beyond a reasonable doubt whether the swimmer is completely underwater. The other 10% of the time, it’s obvious that the swimmer really did lunge too deep/time it incorrectly and deserves the DQ. You can’t watch the hands and shoulders for the finish, and simultaneously look at the feet and knees when you’re that close.

As close as the finish judge is to the swimmer, and with the angles involved, trying to quickly look from the hand to the knees/feet at the moment of the finish doesn’t work. To get scientific about it, saccadic masking occurs and you are literally blind for that split second (typically around 0.2s, I believe). Hard to say someone was submerged at an exact instant when you have a margin of error of two tenths of a second.

I’ll be the first to admit, that point is a little ridiculous. After all, where do you draw the line? The same argument could probably be made for relay starts, so do we not allow officials to watch the exchange for the same reason? Not at all. I’m just pointing out that the vantage point of the finish judge is detrimental to proper enforcement.

Anyway, I like the idea of allowing a submerged finish with only one submerged dolphin kick. Much easier to police than the breaststroke start, so I don’t think we’d see that being abused.

2 years 5 months ago

“Let’s re-word a rule so that after clarification the outcome will result in a much higher number of swimmers being disqualified for an act that has no measurable impact on performance whatsoever! Then, everyone will be forced to try to adapt, which will no doubt lead to a much higher number of hand and finger injuries amongst our beloved community of swimmers! Who’s with me? Alright! Can I get a hoorah?!”…”HOORAH”

–An admirable pioneer and his cohorts from the land of FINA

2 years 5 months ago

Can I get a download link for this video? It would be great to show my swimmers at a pre-practice meeting.

2 years 5 months ago

Would this turn be legal under the newer interpretation of the backstroke finish? It appears the body is submerged into the back/breast turn.

2 years 5 months ago

Hard to tell from underwater, but it looks like as he lunges his hips are still at the surface. Remember, its not a new interpretation, just clarified verbiage.

Jon Lederhouse
2 years 5 months ago

of course, he should be disqualified anyway, as he is not “on his breast” as his feet leave the wall. A major challenge for anyone on this type of back/breast turn. Intentionally planting the feet at 90 degrees instead of 180 would help avoid the DQ

Meet Referee
2 years 5 months ago

WOW – this is really taking a wrong path in stating that this is some major rules change.
This rule change is not a change. The rule simply had language removed from it that was not needed and led to ambiguity. Why? Because as stated at the “finish” is defined as at the INSTANT the wall is touched ending the swimmers race. The wording basically was a redundancy to the stated portion of the rule: “Some part of the swimmer must break the surface of the water throughout the race, except it is permissible for the swimmer to be completely submerged during the turn and for a distance of not more than 15 meters (16.4 yards) after the start and after each turn”. Which means once you are in the swim portion of the race you cannot be submerged (entire body under water). The “at the finish” exception is not needed because in essence the race is over at that instant and it is impossible to judge submerged at that instant. The wording was simply removed – it wasn’t needed. This removal has NOT changed how we officiate the rule. The official must observe that the swimmer has submerged completely (exceptions first 15 meters of each length and during turn) during the swim phase in order to call an infraction. This is what we needed to see before and after the language change. Whether or not the swimmer is submerged at the finish (again the instant that they touch) has no relevance to when that rule is applied. Braden I suggest a call to Dan McAllen at USA Swimming to get this clarified because there has been several articles posted on this change that quite frankly is leading people down a path of interpretation that is really not needed. Even in the video they quote Dan stating that the removed language “does not alter how the rule is judged” but was removed “to clarify what the swimmer can execute legally”. Removal of the words does not now explicitly imply that you cannot be submerged at the finish. We cannot ‘imply” anything by the lack of that wording in a rule (if it isn’t stated as such how can it be a rule?). What the rule language now explicitly states is when you CAN be submerged (first 15 meters and turns) and that you cannot be submerged during any other time of your race (some part of the body must be breaking surface at all times).

Please everyone lets get this right as this should not be leading to increases of this infraction being called. If that is happening at a meet than there is a could be an issue with officials on it application.

I have made it abundantly clear at the meets I am referee that we are officiating this rule exactly as we did before. If I see this call being made in a significant manner than as meet ref it is up to me to make sure our officials are not interpreting the rule incorrectly.

2 years 5 months ago

The one person who voted this down must have gotten DQ’ed, well said Meet Ref.

2 years 5 months ago

That’s a crazy rule, wow!!

On a second note, when did this up voting/down voting come in. Awesome!

2 years 5 months ago

To clarify, is this rule for USA Swimming meets, NCAA meets, or both?

2 years 5 months ago

How in the heck are people being caught off guard by all this?

All coaches and swimmers should be aware of the rules that govern their sport. If swimmers don’t, their coaches aren’t teaching them or they just aren’t listening.

The best way to make sure you aren’t going to violate any rules is to practice proper finishes on every single backstroke repeat in every single practice you swim. You must pay attention to it and learn based on when you pass the flags to make adjustments. The stroke isn’t just there for you to warm-down or breathe more…

As a former backstroker it kills me that so many kids (and grown ups) butcher this simple move. Your backstroke count always matters and you should be aware of your distance to the wall all the time because it is a matter of safety, let alone speed and legality.

Matt Grevers in London had a great finish. A tiny lunge (distance was slightly off), but kept his eyes up and just reached. He didn’t submerge by looking to the wall he just swam into the wall.


Okay, getting off my soapbox now…


About Braden Keith

Braden Keith

The most common question asked about Braden Keith is "when does he sleep?" That's because Braden has, in two years in the game, become one of the most prolific writers in swimming at a level that has earned him the nickname "the machine" in some circles. He first got his feet …

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