Freestyle and Breaststroke Starts and Turns

Below is a record of an e-mail “discussion” between Ian Hampton, (Tuggeranong Masters Swimming ACT) and Gary Stutsel (Manly Masters / Molonglo Water Dragons) about starts and turns at the recent FINA World Championships in Shanghai during July 2011.

Comments from Ian Hampton:

“One of the highlights of the recent FINA World Championships was watching the power, skill and fluid mechanics efficiency of the turns of the best swimmers. For example — I noted that after pushing off in freestyle turns Natalie Coghlan (in particular), and some others, maintained her rotation angle (around 90 degrees from horizontal) for the glide and during the early sequence of doing underwater butterfly kicks; and only rotated back to being on her front as she neared the water surface.  I think there is a good fluid mechanics reason for this — maintaining a steady body position after push-off will minimise turbulence (one of the enemies of speed) and similarly not rolling before commencing the dolphin kick will result in another small efficiency gain.  Worth trying I reckon.”

“The after dive and off the wall underwater technique of a number of the best breaststrokers (including Kosuke Kitajima and Rebecca Soni) distinctly went through a sequence of glide, dolphin kick, full long arm stroke and then breaststroke kick to the surface.  There was some discussion among the commentators about this…  along the lines that this technique had been tested and found to be faster.  Once again, I can think of good fluid mechanics reasons for this to be superior to what we have been doing for the last few years.  I have done a few tests and certainly I get further off the wall at turns doing this. FINA Rules Swimming Clause SW 7.1 is NOT in agreement with what I observed.  SW 7.1 states:

After the start and after each turn, the swimmer may take one arm stroke completely back to the legs during which the swimmer may be submerged.  A single butterfly kick is permitted during the first arm stroke, followed by a breaststroke kick.

MASTERS SWIMMING AUSTRALIA INC, Swimming Rules April 2011 is the same and adds the following … Clarification: The feet may break the surface when executing the single dolphin kick at the start and turns.

It seems to me that prominent coaches (and their swimmers) often push the envelope (and even flout) various swimming rules seeking an advantage for their charges, with the result that FINA get manoeuvred into accepting the change and the ‘goalposts’ get ‘moved’ to accommodate a new ‘technique’.   I am really interested to know what others think?”

Gary Stutsel fills two relevant official positions as Chair of the National Technical Committee which recommends rule changes including those adopted by FINA and also prepares materials for officials’ training courses, accreditation and re-accreditation with the view to consistency between all branches. Gary also fills a second role as Branch Technical Director in which he is often called on to interpret rules or explain any rule changes.

Gary’s response:

“I agree wholeheartedly with your suggestion that butterfly kicking on the side while underwater is preferable to conventional techniques. It has long been used in Butterfly events and was shown to be faster than butterfly swimming on the surface.”

However, Gary queried Ian’s observation about the breaststroke starts and turns.  “Are you sure the hands had not started to part when the butterfly kick was performed?”

The Masters Swimming Australia (MSA), FINA and Swimming Australia Limited (SAL) versions of Rule SW 7.1 are all the same (see above).

In response to Gary’s question, Ian reviewed a recording of the last night of the World Championships. At the start of the women’s 50m breaststroke there was a good under water head-on shot and Ian was able to view this frame by frame using a super ‘slo-mo’ facility. “Viewing the start in both slow motion and frame by frame shows:

  • After her dive and under water glide Jessica Hardy (1st) did an initial butterfly kick with her hands together, followed by a full length arm stroke back to her legs, then a breaststroke kick followed by a second arm stroke during which her head broke the surface.  It is difficult to judge but she may have been JUST completing her butterfly kick when she started her long arm stroke.
  • Yuliya Efimova (2nd) integrated a butterfly kick with a long arm stroke as most of us have been doing for the last few years.
  • Rebecca Soni (3rd) — went through a sequence of dive followed by glide, then just slightly parted her hands, did a butterfly kick, then completed a ¾ length arm pull, and then a breaststroke kick followed by a second arm stroke during which her head broke the surface.

Considering Rule SW 7.1 — it seems to me the operative word is “during” and so I think Jessica Hardy did break the rule, Yuliya was fine and Rebecca maybe met the “letter” of the rule, but what she did was clearly not in the accordance with the intention of the rule.

In response, Gary stated:  “I will contact SAL to discuss this point, saying that the FINA Rules clearly states the butterfly kick is only permitted during the first arm stroke.  I will let you know what SAL has to say about this.”

Gary also added: “… officials will report to the referee any infractions of the rules they are certain they saw. It is very difficult when an Inspector of Turns is standing behind the swimmer, especially at the start where there is splashing, to be sure they have not started the arm pull when they do the butterfly kick (remember the rules do not mention a dolphin kick).”

Ian concluded at this point in time: “Time for the video referee in big meets I reckon…  a bit more drama and good theatre to disqualify a high profile swimmer or two…  particularly an American…  then the drama factor would be fantastic…  we could have the ‘Stephen Bradbury’ 50m breastroke i.e. the swimmer in Lane 8 the only legal swimmer and he or she wins!!!!”


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