With the recent IM disqualifications at USA Swimming Nationals, Swimming World revisited the origin of the Lochte Rule. This article was first printed August 27, 2015. FINA went on to make an official ruling.
Ryan Lochte won the 200 IM at the recent world championships in Kazan recently, thanks in no small part to his new style of kicking underwater for freestyle. In the race, Lochte kicked on his back for about 10 meters before rolling onto his stomach and swimming freestyle for the remaining 40 meters of the last leg of the race. Many had believed this violated FINA rules, though Lochte was never disqualified for the alleged infraction.
200 IM final footage (underwater view begins at 2:06):
FINA is now altering its rules to make a turn of this nature illegal off the wall into freestyle in an individual medley race, according to an article by the German website swimsportnews. It does not appear that FINA is looking to retroactively disqualify Lochte, which would set a major precedent in the sport, but rather remove any doubt about the turn going forward.
The announcement comes during the world junior championships in Singapore, though footage does not show any athlete at that competition using the “Lochte Turn.” Lochte was the only person using the turn technique in Russia, the result of work with coach David Marsh in the United States just a few weeks before the world championships.
“We figured out that I’m faster when I kick on my back,” Lochte said about the technique. It helped him win his fourth consecutive 200 IM world title, making him the second person in history to win four individual world titles in the same event.
While there is no issue with him using it in a strictly freestyle race, where athletes can swim down the pool in any way they desire, many believed Lochte was technically swimming backstroke for a portion of the freestyle leg of the IM race. FINA rules were never specific regarding body position during the turn into freestyle in an individual medley race:
SW 5 Freestyle
SW 5.1 Freestyle means that in an event so designated the swimmer may swim in any style, except that in individual medley or medley relay events, freestyle means any style other than backstroke, breaststroke or butterfly.
SW 5.3 Some part of the swimmer must break the surface of the water throughout the race, except it shall be permissible for the swimmer to be completely submerged during the turn and for a distance of no more than 15 metres after the start and each turn. By that point, the head must have broken the surface.
SW 9 Medley Swimming
SW 9.1 In individual medley events, the swimmer covers the four swimming strokes in the following order: Butterfly, Backstroke, Breaststroke and Freestyle. Each of the strokes must cover one quarter (1/4) of the distance.
FINA is expected to issue a clarification soon of the rule regarding the turn into freestyle in an individual medley race.