EXCLUSIVE VIDEO: Testing New Backstroke Platform at USA Swimming Nationals

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INDIANAPOLIS, Indiana, June 28. USA Swimming has put its full support behind the new backstroke starting platform that is set for approval vote next month at the FINA technical committee meeting, and gave a few swimmers the opportunity to test the device between sessions Friday at the USA Swimming nationals.

Swimming World reported earlier that Russia tested the platform between sessions of the Russian nationals, and federation president Vladimir Salnikov expressed his full support of the apparatus, saying it would eradicate the risk of slipping and add velocity on the start that mirrors the fin in widespread use for forward starts.

USA Swimming had also been doing some tests of its own recently, making the platform available to athletes from the North Baltimore Aquatic Club during the team's visit to Colorado Springs, Colo., for altitude training in May. Endorsements from such swimmers as Conor Dwyer further convinced USA Swimming to endorse the item. Aaron Peirsol, the current world record holder in the 100 and 200 backstrokes, is also lobbying for FINA to approve the device, according to USA Swimming.

USA Swimming officials told Swimming World today FINA President Cornel Marculescu would be contacted in the coming days to convey an endorsement of the product. The FINA technical committee will vote on approving the apparatus next month, and worldwide implementation could start 60 days after that.

Omega and Myrtha Pools created the apparatus, which latches into the grooves that adjust the placement of the forward-start fin and hangs a stainless steel bar less than an inch thick into the water. The bar is covered on one side with a textured surface that swimmers would place their feet on during the start. After the start, the lane's turn judge would remove the bar from the water.

Emily Meilus of Nation's Capital Swim Club, the 21st-place finisher in the 200 backstroke at nationals, was the first to test the device today in Indianapolis, also approving the device. She said she had been doing a track start-style backstroke start with one foot lower than the other on the touchpad to prevent the risk of slipping, and tried one start in that fashion, with one foot on the bar and one foot on the touchpad. In later tests, she put both feet on the bar and had a better start.

Though admittedly not a backstroker, Olympic sprint freestyler Amanda Weir also liked the platform, saying no one could possibly slip while using it.

Pending approval, Omega and Myrtha Pools will offer the device to athletes for testing at the world championships in Barcelona.

Perspective by Jeff Commings

I got the opportunity to test the new backstroke starting platform at the USA Swimming nationals, and I don't want to go back to doing a backstroke start without it again. FINA should approve the apparatus, and it would be a great addition to the sport.

While it was being tested between sessions today, someone called the device “cheating.” It's no more cheating than putting a fin on the back of the starting block. Even the most experience backstroker probably harbors a little bit of fear about slipping on the touchpad. Everyone has had it happen to them, and it's not exclusive to the young 10-year-old at the local age-group meet. I've seen people at the Olympics, NCAAs and national championships slip on the start, their feet losing grip on the most advanced touchpads in the industry. It happens.

But with this start platform, the fear of slipping is taken out of the equation. Now, the swimmer can focus on the other 99.98 (or 199.98) meters of the race.

The logistics of getting the device into the water and put in the ideal spot for each athlete will need smoothing. It took a little more than a minute — and more effort than a swimmer should exert — to put the support beam in place on the block today, so that responsibility should be put on the turn judge, with the athlete dictating where in the water the bar goes.

If FINA approves it, I hope to see all of the details hammered out during the 2013 FINA World Cup and a couple of the big meets of 2014, so the world can start using it by the 2015 world championships.

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