From The SW Archive – FINA: Ryan Lochte’s New Underwater Kicking Style Will Be Illegal In IM Races

Ryan Lochte
Photo courtesy: SWTV

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.

SwimSportNews article (in German)


    • Edgar Aguilar

      Me imagine que lo harían… Porq cambia de estilo

  1. Natália Antunes

    Freestyle is simply not FREEstyle… That’s stupid…

    • Tammy Lee

      The lane turn judge will watch just like at worlds when the lane judge said she would DQ Ryan if he did, but she ended up not doing so.

    • Ailsa Charlotte Main

      Tammy Lee that is not what I meant, I meant with all of the swimmers who leave the wall not fully on their front and turn throughout their kicks

  2. Jennifer Cooke

    Kelly Unhjem Dam Jonathan Dam make sure bray sees this

  3. Kenneth Gati

    Using FINAs argument, doing dolphin kicks on his stomach would also be illegal as he would have already done that in the fly portion of the IM.

    • Dani Humphrey

      Name one swimmer who stays under 15 meters doing only fly kick in the freestyle leg of an IM…

    • Kenneth Gati

      Dani I’m not sure what your point is. No swimmer (even Lochte during “real” meets) stays under for 15 meters doing any kick as the swimmer must surface prior to the 15m mark. Almost all swimmers do under water fly kicks on freestyle leg just like they do on the fly leg. By what FINA is saying about backstroke in the article, currently swimmers are repeating a portion of the fly leg

    • Kenneth Gati

      Dani I’m not sure what your point is. No swimmer (even Lochte during “real” meets) stays under for 15 meters doing any kick as the swimmer must surface prior to the 15m mark. Almost all swimmers do under water dolphin kicks towards the breast on freestyle leg just like they do on the fly leg. By what FINA is saying about backstroke in the article, currently swimmers are repeating a portion of the fly leg

    • Andy Vincent

      I agree the underwater dolphin kick used is the same start as the fly, breast (for 1kick), freestyle and back. There is no mention of “on the back or breast off the wall” in the fina rules in regards to freestyle IM or other wise.

    • David O

      lol…i agree ..make it bilateral free kicks for the non free portion of the free leg 🙂

    • avatar
      Mike B.

      2015 Rules and Regulations for Freestyle, 101.5.2, provides an exception for Medley Relays and IM’s and in that setting defines Freestyle as “any style other than butterfly, breastroke or backstroke.” The event rules for the Medley Relay and IM subsequently refer back to the “prescribed rules for that stroke” or “Rules pertaining to each stroke shall govern where applicable.”

      This brings up 2 issues: In English, there are 3 ways to say the same thing, instead of just referring back to the specific regulation in subsequent swimming rules about freestyle. Secondly, what is the definition of “style” and when does it take effect for the freestyle leg of these races. One could argue that leaving the wall past vertical towards either the back or chest would have been part of the “prescribed rules” for one of the other strokes.

  4. Mark Bull

    What A joke so now swimmers will be at the discretion of to’s when they breast to free turn and streamline on their side. When the to’s can’t police current laws why add new ones.

  5. Andrew Webber

    The amount of dqs that went unnoticed at kazan, I don’t think it really matters what fina say. Swimmers are just going to do what they want anyway.

  6. Tammy Lee

    Boooo! But Ryan called it. He said they’d probably make a rule about it.

  7. Abdoul K. M. Niane

    Kévin Lasserre les ondules sur le dos en crawl, en 4nages no non trop facile ???

  8. avatar
    Caitlin Garrison

    I was thinking when I watched the event that the issue was that he was on his back rather than the kick itself. Am I off base on this?
    Good that FINA is clarifying this rule.

  9. Daniel Leon

    so, we can make this turn when we swimn freestyle? (sorry i dont speak english) (entonces podemos dar esta vuelta cuando nademos freestyle?)

    • Daniel Leon

      thanks (gracias, saludos desde Bolivia, Sudamérica)

  10. Lynette Besonday-Washburn

    This rule change is silly. He was not doing backstroke he was on his back kicking fly. He could have done it on his front which would be fly.

  11. Tammy Lane Evans

    For USA swimming rule for freestyle is you can do any stroke and no get dq, don’t know why this is such a big deal

    • Natália Antunes

      That’s for freestyle only, 100m, 200m free and etc. Now they are prohibiting that for the freestyle leg on medley events, so basically is not freestyle anymore.

    • Natália Antunes

      That’s for freestyle only, 100m, 200m free and etc. Now they are prohibiting that for the freestyle leg on medley events, so basically is not freestyle anymore.

    • Andy Landy

      I personally love it! Very smart!

  12. avatar
    Coach Mike

    I think the issue is that in the IM, you can’t swim any of the strokes previously swum. You have to swim “freestyle”

  13. Alec Dickstein

    Serge Dickstein, so just because Lochte is faster than everyone else when he does this kind of turn. FINA believes this is unfair and takes this advantage away from him? Logic to the max

  14. Lisa Klag Wightman

    Rick Paine, explain this… He wasn’t doing backstroke, just kicking on his back. That is kind of an undefined stroke. If this changes, aren’t there other changes that should logically follow? Even though this seems illogical…

    • Rick Paine

      FINA seems to ahve a policy of “if we don’t understand it, we ban it.” They are interpreting the IM rules to read tha tyo have to do 4 different strokes. The question is when does a legal turn become a stroke. I would assume that it will be illegal to take fly kicks off the wall on your freesyle (which has always been legal) because this would be fly like Lynette suggests. It doesn’t just seem illogical, it is!

    • Lisa Klag Wightman

      Thanks, Coach. I owe you a beer. And I know you’ll collect. We’ll get together when Colleen Kelly gets in town

    • Rick Paine

      Yes I will need help to keep her busy

  15. Dan Patterson

    Let’s just start a new 50 submarine event, call it the Underwater stroke, require surfacing before the flags for the turn and GET IT OVER WITH! No longer than 50 to avoid brain damage and death while training or competing……Meanwhile, require continuous rotation back to front off turn to swim FREESTYLE to finish the IM.

  16. Robyn Lee

    Jennie Lee Sheelah Crause

    • Sheelah Crause

      Coz he so good at it…….now they gotta make a rule against it….crazy!

  17. avatar

    UW dolphin kick is not backstroke. Do something about multiple dolphin kicks on breaststroke underwaters before making this an issue.

    • avatar
      Michael Schwartz

      Now this is the same point my friend and I came across. 2004, an illegal dolphin kick is added into Kitajima’s breast stroke. Everyone is too scared to make the call. 3 months later, FINA deems it legal. Now everybody does multiple dolphin kicks off the start in breast stroke. Now Lochte does something innovative while obeying all the rules. FINA doesn’t understand it and straight out bans it. They always take the easy way out.

  18. Jim Fox

    He might as well give up trying to walk on water, I suppose.

  19. Elenoa Osborne

    Cheyenne Rova Rosemary Rova Adele Rova Dennis Miller

  20. Bob Bunner

    I don’t like this new rule at all!

  21. avatar
    David Marsh

    We are still confused as well- thanks for the conversation by SW thinkers. We feel there is much more conversation/clarification needed.

  22. avatar

    Since Fina wants to prevent underwater back dolphin, during an IM, it should define the strokes. Fly, Back stroke, Breast stroke, and Front crawl. Not Free style, which is just that, free style to swim what and how you want.

  23. Jo Collins

    If the last leg of an IM is defined as the freestyle leg, and freestyle means swim which ever stroke you want, then surely kicking on your back on the last leg of an IM shouldn’t be an issue. Maybe they should clarify this by calling what most people do for freestyle eg. crawl/front crawl as the last leg of an IM

  24. Khuong Ma

    Lead for lochte. Must be hella mad

  25. avatar
    David Orr

    FINA should embrace evolution of the sport when opportunity such as this presents itself rather than rain on the parade of progress. Sadly, it’s not surprising they would go the “Ryan-proofing” route instead of embracing the brilliance of trying something new that may or may not work for all swimmers and technically is not breaking any current rules. Coach Marsh has said he’s not even sure it’s faster because there is a cost of energy and oxygen spent that may not be a good thing for that last leg of the race. It’s just new and FINA doesn’t know what to do with it. Keep an eye on the rules for sure, but embrace evolution to help push the sport higher, coach them UP not down.

  26. avatar
    Bill V.

    FINA, let’s review some career highlights:

    • allowed East German world records to stand after STASI files revealed a systematic doping regimen
    • allowed Chinese world records from the early-mid 1990s to stand (more drug records)
    • allowed rubber suits; then they changed their mind, but let the records stand
    • codified cheating in breaststroke after Kitajima won the Olympics using dolphin kick in breaststroke
    • looked the other way when Cameron van der Burgh openly admitted to cheating in the Olympics
    • allowed two T-Ball-esque modifications to starting blocks for on-the-block and in-water starts
    • spent outrageous amounts of money on first class travel and accommodations for their officials
    • and let’s not forget Fran Crippen!

    So…knowing the kinds of things that go on in the sport of swimming, it’s hard for me to think the sport wouldn’t be a hot mess without FINA. However, with FINA, it’s a complete disaster.

    • avatar

      Kitajima point is a good one. If a swimmer does an illegal turn that gets attention, make it legal. If they do a legal turn that gets attention, make it illegal.

    • Tommy Kuzmich

      I’m looking forward to the “rhetoric” behind this new rule, aka “FINA making up the rules as they go…” Complete malarkey. #DPSnation

  27. Gil Levy

    D’ella Stoddard

  28. Andrea Pratillo

    Lorenzo Bonutti se pensavi di fregarmi cosi sui 200 misti, ti è andata male 😀

  29. James Bradley

    Laurie Bradley doing butterfly kick off the wall on your back then twisting in front to swim freestyle

  30. avatar

    It is not that doing the I’m means four different strokes? Turning for 15 metres underwater on his back whilst doing a dolphin kick is doing backstroke again for that 15 metres therefore technically he has swum 65 metres on his back? And only 35 metres freestyle, the rule being equal lengths for each of the four strokes?
    It’s not about it being an advantage it’s not technically correct and does break although not defined and broke down( like they have now clarified) the origanl basic IM rule! 4 strokes of equal lengths over the chosen distance!

    • avatar

      Like the other comments have stated, you can do dolphin kick underwater on BOTH fly and free in the IM. They’re both done on your stomach.

      And guess what? Swimmers don’t kick underwater on their stomachs parallel to the floor. They’re always at an angle. Backstroke and freestyle underwaters could legally be only 2 degrees separated.

      So you’re proposing four strokes of equal lengths? Better change the rule book to not allow dolphin kick on the freestyle leg period, since that obviously is the same stroke as fly.

  31. Amanda Chow

    This seems like a bogus rule to be created for the sake of creating random rules.

  32. Vincent Paulger

    Felix Carrittzahn what is your view on this

  33. Virginia Stephens

    Ridiculous! Let the sport progress. Lots of people do the first one or two dolphin kicks off the wall mostly on their back. So now that would be illegal on the free to free turn in the 400 IM as well?

  34. Judd Jones

    FINA gets it wrong again. #1 – It’s hard or impossible to enforce rules governing what swimmers do *underwater*. #2 – The rules governing the breaststroke pullout are much more urgent. This is what K. Hossu did in the 400 IM at the short course WC last December. Where was the race to revise the rules after this?

  35. Tom Pollock

    Way to make a rule for one swimmer FINA. If it were Phelps they wouldn’t do this.

  36. avatar

    Should’ve held off at worlds and done it in Rio, snag a gold and make that road runner beep beep noise as he leaves the podium.

  37. avatar

    So streamline dolphin kicking (SDK) rotated past vertical to the back is considered the ‘style’ of backstroke? Fine, so I guess SDKs rotated past vertical to the front is considered the ‘style’ of freestyle now? Another terrific rule ‘interpretation’ from FINA. I look forward to clarifications every year for the next 20 years on this just like we’ve had since 2004 for breaststroke dolphin kick during the pullout.

  38. avatar
    Leonard Roxon

    According to the “FINA rule 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.”

    So dolphin kick is supine position is being considered as backstroke. What does dolphin kick prone position going to be considered – A Butterfly stroke? That STILL breaks the rule if the so-called new interpretation is validated. This is simply too stupid to even comprehend!

    Setting/interpreting rules that can really be challenged in one form or another is idiotic and just a publicity stunt! However, it is an issue now, just because Lochte and his coach found a faster way to swim that no one else apparently has thought about to date!!!

    The level of stupidity in swimming that panders to someone’s ego (like the turn/lane judge who stated was going to DQ Lochte, but chose not to) or just because someone has a beef with another, amazes me!!!

  39. Tasha McGill

    Wow 2015, and kids are still practicing that method. I blame coaches.

  40. Kelianne Ruiz

    I was really thinking there was some sort of new way to kick in the water.

    Guess who isn’t a swimmer…

  41. Irene Hisham

    oh…..Edwina Ed….Edrin Rafael Walcott…Ismail Abdul Latif…Clement David

  42. Inna Koucka

    Here u go ! Why Fina didn’t announce it before Europe Championship?!?!