SWIMNEWS ONLINE: August 1997 Magazine Articles

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Continued - Part 2

Wanted: Exhibition Events For Underwater Swimming


Cecil M. Colwin

Legislate the Four Strokes as Surface Strokes

Murray Stephens, who has coached two Olympic backstroke champions, Theresa Andrews (1984) and Beth Bosford, 1996, says, "I agree with the writer that a 15 metre underwater rule for all strokes, including crawl-stroke (a.k.a. "freestyle"), is appropriate and long overdue. In other words, all four of the traditional strokes - breaststroke, crawl-stroke, backstroke, and butterfly - should be clearly legislated as surface strokes.

"The dolphin, fishtail, or butterfly kick motion of the legs and body has proved to be an enduring addition to the world of speed swimming. Over time, I believe that it has been correctly added to the overarm action that we call butterfly. But, a stroke such as backstroke (back crawl) does not deserve, or need to be confused with butterfly by having large amounts (or any amount) of distance covered by dolphin kick. Short course backstroke has been transformed into another event by this usage. The back flutter kick should be the defined kick for backstroke.

"In like manner any underwater footage of international breaststroke events reveals both men and women adding significant dolphin foot and leg actions to the end of the breaststroke kick prior to the hand separation. Breaststroke kick, after much preliminary piecemeal legislation, is now clearly defined in the rules and this should remain the enforced standard."

Coach George Haines, the most successful coach of Olympic swimmmers in the history of swimming, says that the designated distance allowed to dolphin or fishtail off the dive , and off the push-off at the turns should be legislated fairly. "For example, and these suggested distances may not meet with agreement from everybody, but just for example, the dive-start in the 25 yards or 25 metres pool may result in a 12 1/2 yards, or 12 1/2 metres half-way rule, and then they have to swim the rest of the way on the surface. And the push-off from the wall, in a 25 yards or 25 metres pool, should be 12 1/2 yards or 12 1/2 metres."

Haines says that the underwater segments in long course would differ slightly. "The dive in the long course could be 20 to 25 metres, and off the push-off could be 20 to 25 metres, but, whatever distance is designated or legislated, you should not have to count strokes. In other words, take out this business of counting strokes and make it a certain distance off the dive and off the wall at the turn, just like backstroke."

Haines says that, although "it took a long time to convince the powers that be, breaststroke swimming, as it is now enforced, seems to me to be more than fair. Allowing the head to go under the surface to streamline the body took a long time to become law, so leave that rule as it is. Breathing every cycle in breaststroke covers the need to be on the surface, according to the rules. The current rules governing the dive and the turn in breaststroke are also quite adequate."

Pablo Morales says: "The one thing that I must express a concern about, is that I wonder if that would stifle innovation. For example, what was called the 'Berkoff Blast-Off' really opened our eyes to streamlining, and underwater work. As a result, it's now limited to 15 metres. A person who can emphasize and do those 15 metres effectively off the start, is going to be put in a very good position.

"Berkoff taught us a lot about what can happen whenever somebody sort of takes the rules, and I don't know if 'bending' them is the right word, but just innovates within the given rules. I think that's a good thing. But I think there should be a distinction between surface swimming and underwater swimming. However, I don't want the rules to be so inflexible so as to discourage innovation."

George Haines agreed with Morales in that "backstroke, a surface stroke, already has been toned down as a result of Berkoff's amazing underwater dolphin on his back, which was more of a backstroke event underwater than backstroke on the surface. Thus the rule change. Butterfly, backstroke, and crawl (which would be a good term to use instead of freestyle), should have similar rules. "In the past, the tumble turn was first accepted, to be followed by the tumble turn with no-touch, in freestyle and backstroke, and they were great innovations. So the streamlining of underwater swimming in backstroke, butterfly and crawl should be allowed, but should be limited by certain restrictions."

Haines says, "I don't see why a crawl swimmer or a backstroker has to be restricted by what type of kick they use, if they're limited in how far they are permitted to go under water. If you legislate 12 1/2 yards or 12 1/2 metres in a 25 yard or a 25 metre pool, that's half the pool. Those guys are going to go underwater half the pool anyway. So what difference does it make if they use a flutter on the back or a crawl flutter?"

Coach Nort Thornton, coach of Matt Biondi and many other great swimmers, says, "I have a little bit of a problem in that I hate to take away the opportunity for people to be innovative, and to look for new ways to go. We're always trying to get swimmers to streamline, and to come off the wall and run their streamlines out, and if you get somebody who does this so exceptionally well, it's almost as if you're penalizing them for being able to do what you're asking them to do. But you definitely have to have some sort of common rule that will encompass all the strokes, and so I think that bringing in a 15 metres underwater law for all the strokes is probably a pretty good idea. In this way, everybody would be on the same page all the time, and they would know what the rules are, and they would not be trying to circumvent them.

"Another way of looking at it is that you've got physiological limitations on the length of the body. For instance, the taller person is definitely at an advantage, and, in underwater swimming, the shorter person is able to take on a taller type individual and be more successful. So, in a sense, you don't want to limit it to hereditary qualities. You don't just want to have the whole Olympic final to be all tall people. That would limit the sport. So I think you've got to leave somewhere for people to be innovative. A lot of the swimmers who are adopting the underwater kicking are short people basically. They've found a way to compete better against the taller swimmers."

Cal Bentz, Head Coach at University of Nebraska, says, "Why not simply extend the current backstroke rule to cover butterfly and freestyle races as well? I suggest including butterfly, and freestyle (crawl-stroke) in the same application of the 15-metres rule since they each gain a similar advantage while employing the dolphin kick under water. I would exclude the breaststroke pull-out from the application of the 15 metres limit after the start and turn. Since the breaststroke pull-out allows only one pull and one kick off the start and turns, and, since it is a more deliberate and slower action it is easier to judge, and should not be restricted by the 15 metres rule."

Experimental Events to Encourage Innovation

Nort Thornton says, "You definitely don't want to discourage innovation because this is where we all came from. I agree with the idea of exhibition events. Such strokes as dolphin kicking in its various forms, back dolphin, underwater dolphin, even the sideways dolphin, or fishtail, deserve an opportunity to be seen in separate races, 50 metres events, with or without equipment; some could even use monofins. Obviously, there's already some monofin swimming around the world. It's already pretty well established and very popular, and this may well be another way to introduce another event into competition."

Murray Stephens believes that "underwater 50 meter experimental events, with and without equipment, deserve an opportunity to be seen. Dolphin kick would be a strong contender for this competition. Back dolphin, underwater dolphin, and breaststroke dolphin need to be separated from the stroke events."

George Haines says that "the underwater propulsion being developed by coaches and the swimmers with specific talents is very interesting." He points out that streamlining has always been a major factor in generating speed from the dive into the water, and from the push-off at the turn. Haines believes that "the dolphin kick, or the fishtail on the side, is now a part of swimming fast. Any rule to govern this innovation should be fair to all the strokes involving this type of propulsion. Changes should not be so drastic that they allow one individual athlete to be completely dominant. "

Haines thinks that "innovation should not be legislated out. If you're going to have those 50s only as exhibitions to help promote innovation, that's fine. I don't think Misty Hyman, and others like her, should be completely legislated out of what they can do to go fast. She's a good athlete, and as she gets stronger, she'll be able to do that thing underwater even faster."

"Crawl" and not "Freestyle"

Although freestyle has long supposed to have been the stroke in which "anything goes," in reality it has not seen anywhere near the amount of change such has occurred in breaststroke and butterfly. Nevertheless, as the other three strokes become more clearly defined, there is a danger that the inherent nature of the crawl-stroke (let's be frank, and call it "Crawl"!) may lose its original intention of being a surface stroke. There is also a danger that it may also become a "parking place" for all sorts of extraneous techniques that legislation may eventually bar from the other three strokes.

Pablo Morales says, "I agree that freestyle shouldn't be literally a 'free' style to do whatever one wants to do. It should be determined to be crawl." In saying this Pablo is quite correct because the FINA rule simply says (did I say 'simply'?!) that "Freestyle means that in an event so designated the swimmer may swim any style, except that in individual medley or medley relay events, freestyle means any style other than backstroke, breaststroke or butterfly."

This is yet another example of FINA's classic gobbledygook. What is FINA trying to say? If a swimmer may swim "any style other than backstroke, breaststroke or butterfly," what EXACTLY is the swimmer permitted to swim? Work through this rule, using the process of elimination, and, eureka!, we find that "freestyle" can only mean "crawl'," so WHY not call it "crawl" and have done with it!

Why not define "freestyle," in future, as clearly being the "crawl stroke"; a stroke that is "swum on, or in, the surface of the water in prone position, with alternating arm recoveries over the water performed in the continuing sequence of left arm, right arm recovery." And do the same with backstroke, except, of course, that it should be typified as a stroke that is swum on the back. (Note: Attention to FINA's poorly worded turning rule is long overdue.)

Incidentally, the term crawl should also be used in any new description of the four strokes to be used in medley swimming; otherwise, if a loophole is left by retaining the "freestyle" description in the medley definition, it could happen that some super-swimmer, not too fatigued at the beginning of the freestyle leg of a medley swim, may resort to, (guess what ?) underwater dolphin or fishtail kicking!

On Dolphin in Crawl

George Haines says that swimmers are beginning to do dolphin kick in the freestyle event. "This freshman girl at Stanford went 47+ (100 yards) this year, or 48.1, or something like that. I think she's from Kansas. She dolphin kicks underwater, and she goes about two thirds of the way underwater, and comes up, takes about three or four strokes, and takes a turn. I don't get that. I don't see that at all because eventually you're going to get a Misty Hyman, some super athlete who can really do that dolphin kick, and that takes the times recorded under the recent past rules right off the books. I really believe that we have to legislate against this happening. The distance swum underwater has got to be restricted. In backstroke now, they can only go 15 metres underwater, after that, they've got to be able to swim backstroke. If 15 metres is good enough for backstroke, it's good enough for crawl, and it's good enough for butterfly."

Haines says, "The same off the starting block in crawl, or freestyle, they should be restricted to a certain distance undewater; after that, you've got to be able to swim crawl, or freestyle.

Would It Be Fair?

George Haines asks, "What happens if someone breaks Mary T. Meagher's butterfly records swimming underwater fishtail; would that be fair? The only way they're going to avoid this is, well, you take Jennny Thompson beat Misty Hyman this year already (in Gšteborg). Jenny Thompson didn't go underwater, she prefered to swim on the surface. And so Misty Hyman really hasn't got a lot on this thing yet, and, before she does, if they restrict the distance she can do underwater, let's say that, in the 25 metres pool, she has to be up and going at 12 1/2 metres, she's not going to get any advantage. At the same time, she's going to able to do the same thing off the walls, then she has to be up and swimming."

Haines says, "If I thought they could get away with making the backstrokers use a back flutter, and make the freestylers always use a flutter when they push off the wall, it would be fair. But a flutter kick comes in all sorts of variations: drag kick, 2 beat, 4 beat cross-over, etc, etc; you can't start legislating all that. You've just got to call all those different types of kicks "flutter kicks."

In the final criterion, George Haines, who has had more swimmers inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame than any other coach, does not appear optimistic about FINA's ability to bring about immediately effective rule changes to the sport of swimming. He says, "Anyway, no matter what we say, it's going to take FINA another 21 years to do anything about it. Cecil Colwin mentioned that FINA should discuss rule changes in the context of all the strokes, and how changes in one rule may or may not affect another stroke, or have relevance to it. That's exactly what they should do, and that's what they have never ever done. When you take a look, and put down all the names of people who have been on FINA over the past 30 or 40 years, two thirds of them have never ever had anything to do with coaching or instructing people, so how in the hell can they interpret? That's why it's taken them so long; well, I don't want to start discussing those guys!"

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