Commentary: Backstroke Start Ledge Sorely Missed at USA Swimming Nationals

Photo by Griffin Scott

Editorial coverage for U.S. Senior Nationals proudly sponsored by Master Spas!

Commentary by Jeff Commings

IRVINE, California, August 7. WHEN Bonnie Brandon slipped on the start of the 200 backstroke in the B final at the USA Swimming nationals, my heart sank. I had barely recovered when Elizabeth Beisel did the same thing in the championship final.

You could hear a pin drop in the first 15 seconds of the 200 back final at the William Woollett Aquatic Center. No one could believe what they saw, or were just too speechless.

If FINA hadn’t stalled on the implementation of the backstroke starting ledge, Beisel and Brandon (as well as Nolan Brown in the men’s event) would have had very different outcomes tonight. Every backstroker tries not to think about slipping on the start, but the danger is there. The backstroke ledge takes the danger out of the equation.

At the 2013 USA Swimming nationals, I was one of the first in the United States to test out the ledge:

FINA approved the backstroke start ledge a week before the 2013 world championships, and its bylaws stipulate that a newly-approved rule goes into effect 60 days after the vote. But FINA wants to give the world more time to learn about it use, and possibly create protocol to ensure proper implementation. The Mesa stop of the Arena Grand Prix was scheduled to be its American debut, then it was pushed back to the Santa Clara meet before FINA pulled back on the reins and set the debut for this fall’s World Cup series.

That means we won’t see them at the Pan Pacific championships, which means the coaches of all the teams swimming in the Gold Coast in two weeks will need to warn their swimmers to be cautious on their backstroke starts. It’s one thing to slip at nationals. It’s an entirely different situation when it happens at the international level.

Elizabeth Beisel stopped by the mixed zone after the 200 back, and called the slip “an age-grouper mistake” and that “Olympians make mistakes, too.” A mistake in a backstroke race is hitting the lane line or misjudging the flags. I suppose slipping on the start can be avoided, but why can’t backstrokers have the same security on their start that those swimming other strokes have? Thankfully, that time is almost here.



  1. avatar

    Is this really worth printing? Yes she slipped, and no that is not a good thing, but to blame something that is not legal to use is absurd. Other points this article should have addressed are the following….Connor Jaeger could have gone faster with a tempo trainer in his cap during his race, as well as, 100 free finals should have been more impressive with legalization of steroids.
    This article is a reach at best, and not even a good reach at that.

    • avatar


      As Mark mentioned, the ledges have already been approved and were supposed to rollout during the Arena Grand Prix.

      • avatar

        Ok….but still not rolled out, so you can’t blame what is not there.

  2. avatar

    I think it’s silly they’re even adding these ledges, ever. Backstroke starts are a skill. Practice it. Taking away something that differentiates good swimmers from great swimmers doesn’t do anything positive for the sport.

    • avatar

      The slippage only became a problem when they outlawed having toes over the edge of the pool, as was permitted when I was an age grouper. Slipping is a problem now–and not only for fogeys, apparently. Why not change the rules to make it less of one and focus on fast swimming? Rules have been changed many times before for better or worse.

      • avatar
        Jeff Commings

        LC, the slipping is most evident on the starts involving “flat walls,” or the touchpads that rise about a foot above the water surface, when swimmer place their toes/feet above the surface. The United States is pretty much the only country that has the “gutter walls” that allow you to grab on the turns and present the issue of curling your toes over the edge on backstroke starts. Because of this, it’s not really something to address worldwide in terms of allowing toes over the edge on backstroke starts. Possibly, the rule should return to not allowing toes/feet above the surface on backstroke starts, but slipping still is an issue.

Author: Jeff Commings

Jeff Commings is the Senior Writer for and Swimming World Magazine. He graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in journalism and was a nine-time NCAA All-American.

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