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Wanted: Exhibition Events For Underwater Swimming


Cecil M. Colwin

New techniques with a potential for speed, such as underwater dolphin and fish-tail kicking, should be encouraged but not permitted to remain "an event within an event." The choice FINA faces is whether to continue to permit the traditional strokes to be adulterated, or whether to preserve them in their intended form.

FINA doesn't seem to realize that underwater swimming is not just a way to get around the rules. Athletes have discovered new facts about speeding up human propulsion through water. But the trouble is that these swimmers do not have the appropriate "testing grounds" for developing their new-found expertise.

Instead of considering underwater swimming merely as an interesting spectacle, or at worst, an intrusion into the established events, FINA should show some positive leadership in this matter by placing these new techniques in separate events for experimental purposes; call them "experimental events."

Provision should be made for additional "unlimited" exhibition events to be included in some meets for the purpose of showing the swimming public potentially faster methods of swimming, either above or below the water surface, and thereby encouraging further innovative developments in our quest for speed. (Perhaps, at first, these exhibitions should be over a short distance, either 25 or 50 metres.)

Furthermore, there is a growing body of opinion that believes the time has come for FINA to draw a distinction between surface swimming and underwater swimming. To some extent, this already has been done in breaststroke and backstroke, but similar restrictions to the duration of underwater swimming at the start or turns should now be extended to butterfly and crawl.

This would prevent a repetition of what happened, fifty years ago, when butterfly, because of a loophole in the rules, was allowed to remain part of the breaststroke event for 20 years, instead of being accorded a separate event on its own.

Responsibility to Learn from the Past

Two recent SWIMNEWS articles, The 50-Year Saga of the Breaststroke Rules (April - June 1997), and When is a Stroke Not a Stroke? (June, 1997) have caused discussion among such well-known names in the sport as George Haines, Nort Thornton, Murray Stephens, Cal Bentz, and Pablo Morales.

The purpose of these two articles was to record and document the historical facts of how FINA, the amateur body that governs international swimming, blundered and dithered in an amateurish way for 50 years before it "finally got the breaststroke rules right."

Swimming underwater for long indeterminate distances, no matter what anyone may say, is not the butterfly stroke as we understand it to be, but a travesty of what the rule - "two kicks or more" - intended it to be, and, indeed, is the result of a loophole in a rule that was carelessly worded by FINA in the first instance.

Over this long period of time, FINA's continued political and technical bungling has adversely affected the technical development of the sport as well as the careers of many individual athletes. In fairness to FINA, the problem caused by their piecemeal approach to rule-making was compounded by the International OIympic Committee's (IOC) reluctance to increase the number of Olympic swimming events. (This may pose the question as to why the IOC's influence on swimming should extend to the periods between the Olympics, but of course, the answer doesn't take much guessing: "Who pays the piper plays the tune.")

The FINA Technical Committee could learn from both past and recent history by studying the fifty year saga of the breaststroke rules. By doing so, the members could avoid repeating the same mistakes. They would learn the importance of encouraging innovative techniques while ensuring that these techniques accord with the intention of the rules.

Innovations should fit naturally into an existing event. They should not be permitted to be swum in events to which they bear little resemblance. For example, swimming underwater for long indeterminate distances, no matter what anyone may say, is NOT the butterfly stroke as we understand it to be, but a travesty of what the rule - "two kicks or more" - intended it to be, and, indeed, is the result of a loophole in a rule that was carelessly worded by FINA in the first instance.

Piecemeal, Band-aid Legislation

Murray Stephens, 1996 U.S. Olympic coach, and coach of Beth Botsford, winner of the 100 metres backstroke in Atlanta, says: "FINA historically has always tended to respond to innovation and experimentation in a ponderous and deliberative manner, instead of first reviewing the history of an individual stroke's development in order to clearly determine what the intent of a proposed new rule should be."

"More often than not, FINA chooses to legislate in a piecemeal and band-aid fashion on each new problem as it arises, instead of trying to assess, with foresight and clarity, the broader implications of any rule change for all the four traditional strokes of swimming."

Leading coaches and swimmers say that innovation has been the underlying theme and reason for the continued development of our sport, and it should continue to be encouraged. However, they all agree that there is a vast difference between swimming on the surface of the water and underneath it. Although extended underwater dolphin kicking has already been limited in the backstroke rules, for some peculiar reason, FINA has continued to permit this mixture of long indeterminate spells of dolphin kicking in what is supposed to be the butterfly event.

Granted, it is expected that Australia will soon move to have a limit set to underwater kicking in butterfly, but this typical FINA piecemeal approach will probably result in freestyle (a.k.a. "crawl") becoming a dumping ground for new ideas that wouldn't pass muster in the other three strokes. Therefore, no time should be wasted to ensure that the use of underwater dolphin techniques in both butterfly and crawl is limited to the breakout from the start and the turns, as already exists in backstroke. And, exciting and extremely interesting as these underwater techniques have proved to be, separate experimental events should be staged to encourage and promote their development.

All are agreed that the innovative techniques of swimmers such as David Berkoff, Daichi Suzuki, and Misty Hyman should be recognized, encouraged, and further developed through closer study in separate events.

The Intention of the Rules

Competitive swimming, to a large extent, is all about the quest for speed, and this should be encouraged, but within the intention of the rules.

The word 'intention" is, or should be, the main point to all rule changes. The questions to be asked in setting a new rule should be: "What is the intention of the rule?"; "Will the new rule achieve what it intends to achieve?"; "Does it say so with absolute clarity, and without any chance of misinterpretation?"; and last, but not least: "Are there any loopholes that would permit a swimmer to do other than what the rule intends?"

For "What is the intention of the rule?" it would be wise to study the historical background of that particular rule, to see how changing events may have allowed loopholes to become evident to those wishing to take advantage of them.

Pablo Morales, a law graduate and an Olympic butterfly champion, says,"I agree that some guidelines in this regard should be set, and, of course, I'm all for removing ambiguities in the rules, and for removing loopholes in rules, and sticking with the intention of the rules.

"If anything my legal experience taught me is that you can't always look at the words. You have to look at the legislative history and the intention behind the words to determine the meanings. I think there shouldn't be loopholes and I think the intention of the rules need to be stated so that people won't take advantage of the rules, or perform in a way that is clearly against the intention of the rules.

"A lot of legal books have a section for legislative history that talks about the intention of the rule itself.

"I also agree that innovative techniques should be saved for exhibitions, or competitions outside the four recognized strokes. Innovative techniques should be saved for exhibitions, etc, only in situations where the innovative technique falls outside the intention of the rule. This, of course, presumes that such intent has been expressed and disseminated, which we know has not usually been the case. So, essentially, and maybe this has already been said, I believe the problem is not the innovative technique, which I would generally encourage, but the lack in some cases of a clear statement, and enforcement, of rule intent."

Continued - Part 2

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