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Van der Burgh: We All Stretched The Rules

Aug 3, 2012  - Craig Lord

Olympic 100m breaststroke champion Cameron van der Burgh (RSA) has suggested that he and other finalists at the London 2012 Games stretched the rules but were not prepared to sacrifice success to be on the right side of morality. His words actually go further than the rulebook, the world record setter appearing to admit to a wrong he didn't actually commit.

Confused? Here goes: a video of Van der Burgh's start on his way to the Olympic crown clearly shows him dolphin kicking multiple times before breaking into his stroke. 

The rule is somewhat ambiguous. SW7.1 states: After the start and after each turn… A single kick is permitted during the first arm stroke, followed by a breaststroke kick. There is nothing to say that breaststrokers cannot do dolphin kicks before the arms are engaged, dolphin kicking allowed at starts and turns in all other strokes.

Van der Burgh, in common with others in the final and in several other major finals at world level over the past several years, kicks furiously during the glide phase of his dive, arms outstretched before him. Whether he then takes more than one butterfly kick "during the first arm stroke" is debatable. 

The deck judges cannot see that dolphin kick on the glide phase because of the splash at the surface of the water. It would take underwater video analysis to show that it did indeed happen. Even then, the rule does not specifically bar dolphin kicks in the glide phase of the dive.

That Van der Burgh has admitted to kicking at that point of his dive tells us that he feels safe. And he is: no-one lodged a protest and there is now no official case to answer. Look along most breaststroke line-ups and you will see world-class swimmerets doing what Van der Burgh did, though perhaps somewhat less efficiently.

Asked about his dolphin kicking by reporters, among them Brazilians and Australians pointing to the video, Van der Burgh told reporters at the London Aquatics Centre this morning: "I think every single swimmer does that. At the point of time before the fly kick was legal, [Kosuke] Kitajima was doing it and the Americans were complaining. I think its pretty funny of the Australians to complain because in the underwater footage if you look at Brenton Rickard in the lane next to me he's doing the exact same thing as me and yet they are turning a blind eye.

"It's got to the point where if you are not doing it you are falling behind or giving yourself a disadvantage. Everyone is pushing the rules and pushing the boundaries and if you are not doing it you are not trying hard enough.

"For instance me, I lost my 50 breaststroke (title) last year because a Brazilian swimmer did fly kicks and beat me and I think only if you can bring in underwater footage that's when people will stop doing it. We will have piece of mind to say I don't need to do it because not everyone else is doing it and it's a fair playing field.

"Everybody does it, well if not everybody 99 percent of them. If you are not doing it you are falling behind and giving yourself a disadvantage. For me, it's not obviously, shall we say, the moral thing to do but I'm not willing to sacrifice my personal performance and four years of hard work for someone else who is willing to do it and get away with it and has proven to get away with it as they did last year."

Van der Burgh believed that introducing obligatory official underwater video of all major races would help render the rule enforceable. 

"It was two years ago in Stockholm at the World Cup [when they used video footage to decide whether a swimmer had broken the rules] and it was really awesome because nobody attempted it and it was the first time that it was really clean. They used underwater footage. We all came up clean and we all had piece of mind that nobody was going to try it. I'm really for it if they can bring it in, I"m all for it, it will better the sport, but like I say I'm not willing to lose to someone who is doing it, who has done it to me before .''