Meet Situations: FAQs for Officials


  • Minimum Number of Officials
  • Time Trials
  • Adding Time Trials
  • Choice of Strokes During Freestyle Events
  • Leaving and Re-Entering the Pool During a Race
  • Leaving and Re-Entering the Pool After a Race
  • Foot Position on Starting Platform
  • Body Position During In-Water Starts
  • Toe Placement During Backstroke Starts
  • Backstroke Turn
  • Breaststroke Kick
  • Counters for the 400-Meter Freestyle
  • Written Split Requests
  • Short vs. Long Whistle
  • Side Judges and Jurisdiction
  • Timing System Malfunction and Placement of Finish
  • Wristwatches
  • Medic Alert Bracelet
  • Modification of Rules for Injured Swimmer
  • Modification of Rules for Permanently-Disabled Swimmer

Minimum Number of Officials

(Kathy Casey, Nov 2010)

Question: Am I correct that the minimal officiating crew for official times at a meet is three officials on deck at all times?

Answer: No, the minimum number of officials can be two (103.1); one referee (who must be certified, 103.2), one starter, and two stroke and turn judges, but the referee and starter can both also serve as stroke and turn judges (hence the four positions can be covered by two people). The referee cannot also serve as a starter (103.1.1).

Time Trials

(Kathy Casey, Nov 2010)

Question: As a referee, do I have the authority to offer time trials at the end of the meet or spaced throughout the meet if a swimmer asks to swim an event a second or third time to try to break a record or if a swimmer missed an event?

Answer: No, the order of events as stated in the meet announcement cannot be changed, and an event may not be added to a meet that is already in progress. The announced arrangement of heats in any event cannot be added to or altered, except by the authority of the referee only to the extent of consolidating heats (102.13.1). Time trials can be conducted at a meet if they were announced in the meet information and entry form, offered to all swimmers entered in the meet, and counted as part of the event limit per day per swimmer. If the primary timing system is fully automatic, record attempts can also be made during initial distances of longer events and during the leadoff legs of relay events (105.3.6).

Adding Time Trials

(Officials Committee, 2009, "Meet Situation #7")

Question: During a meet, a swimmer approaches the Meet Referee and explains that he is attempting a USMS record in the 200-meter butterfly. During this event earlier in the meet, the swimmer missed the record by only 0.01-seconds. He requests that the Meet Referee add a time trial at the end of the meet so he can make another attempt. Should the Referee grant the request? 

Answer: Rule 102.13.1 states that the “order of events as stated in the meet announcement shall not be changed” and “the announced arrangement of heats shall not be added to or altered except by the authority of the referee to the extent of consolidating heats”. Therefore, adding individual time trials per swimmer requests to the meet program after the sanction has been granted is not permitted. The Referee may not grant the request. 

Choice of Strokes During Freestyle Events

(Kathy Casey, Nov 2010)

Question: I told a swimmer that she could not do the 200 IM during the 200 free because once a stroke is selected in a freestyle event, you cannot change to another stroke during the race. The swimmer’s coach insisted I was wrong. Who was right? 

Answer: The coach was correct. In an event designated as freestyle, the swimmer may swim any style (101.5.2). There are no restrictions about changing the style of swimming during a freestyle event. The only restriction regarding style is during the freestyle portion of a medley event; in a medley relay or individual medley event, freestyle means any style other than butterfly, breaststroke or backstroke (101.5.2). Again there is no restriction about changing the style of swimming during the freestyle portion of the medley event. Regardless of the stroke(s) used, times achieved in freestyle events can be recorded only as freestyle times (103.12.2). 

Leaving and Re-entering the Pool During a Race

(Officials Committee, 2009, "Meet Situation #9")

Question: During the Women’s 1000-yard Freestyle, the swimmer in lane 4 mistakenly stops after 950-yards and exits the pool. The timing system operator shouts “you have another 50”! The swimmer re-enters the pool and completes the race. After the race, the swimmer wakes up the Referee on the side of the pool and comments on how wonderful it was that the officials were alert and thanks the officials for allowing her to complete the race, even if her time will be a few seconds off. Does this swimmer have a surprise coming? 

U.S. Masters Swimming rules are clear that the swimmer may not leave the pool during the race. As soon as the swimmer exited the water, she was unfortunately disqualified. If the swimmer did not leave the pool, however, she could complete the race even if she stopped early. It should be noted that the swimmer is responsible for completing the specified distance, so the officials are not required to do anything. 

Leaving and Re-entering the Pool After a Race

(Officials Committee, 2009, "Meet Situation#10")

Question: At the conclusion of the Women’s 1000-yard freestyle, the swimmer in lane 4 exits the pool. After observing that all of the other competitors have at least 200 yards remaining in the race, she re-enters the pool and warms down. Should the swimmer be disqualified? 

Answer: There is no rule that explicitly prevents a swimmer in an individual event from reentering the pool after completion of the race, but the Referee may take appropriate action against the swimmer if her actions were unsafe, unsportsmanlike, or resulted in interference with another swimmer. 

Entry into the competition pool is controlled via the start rules. Swimmers may not enter the competition pool unless they are reporting to swim an event or if one or more of the lanes have been designated for continuous warm-up. Rule 102.15.7 states some actions that would not be considered entry into the competition pool (dipping goggles or swim caps into the pool prior to a race). 

Rule 102.15.6 prohibits interference with another swimmer. The Referee could conclude that a swimmer re-entering the pool created such a disturbance that he interfered with a swimmer in an adjacent lane who has not yet competed their race. 

Thus, the Referee has a little latitude in this situation. If the swimmer exited the pool, but then before stepping away from the edge of the pool, she carefully slipped back into the pool feet first and took a few strokes of cool down, the Referee could do nothing or could warn the swimmer not to exit the pool next time she wants to cool down before the heat is concluded. Rule 102.4.2 requires the swimmer to enter warm-up and warm-down areas feet first in a cautious and controlled manner. 

If on the other hand, the swimmer deliberately re-entered the pool after some period of time, did so after being asked not to do so or after swimmers were instructed to leave the pool, dove into the pool, created a disruption that had an impact on the other swimmers in the heat, or did so without regard to the other swimmers still swimming, the referee could easily consider the action unsafe or unsportsmanlike and may disqualify the swimmer on these grounds. 

Foot Position on Starting Platform

(Officials Committee, "Meet Situation #11")

Question 1: A swimmer steps onto the starting platform prior to a freestyle event and takes a position with one foot toward the front surface of the starting platform, but with a small distance between the front foot and the edge of the platform. The starter instructs the swimmer to adjust his foot position so that the toes are at the front edge of the starting platform. Is the starter correct?

Question 2: A swimmer steps onto the starting platform prior to a freestyle event and takes a position with the left foot placed towards the front surface of the starting platform, but with a small gap between the toes and the edge of the platform. The starter does not correct the foot position and gives the “take your mark” command. Following the command, the swimmer adjusts his foot position by moving the left foot forward closer to the front edge of the starting platform. What should the starter do?

Answer: In events that require the use of the forward start, the rule requires the swimmer to take a position with at least one foot at the front of the starting platform, the edge of the pool, or on the wall prior to the command “take your mark”. Note that this rule is different from USA-Swimming, a foot placement requirement after TYM.

The term “front of the starting platform” does not necessarily require the swimmer to have his or her toes directly at the front edge of the platform, only that they be on the front surface of the block. Thus, the starter may not instruct the swimmer that the toes must be at the edge of the starting platform.

However, the intent of the rule is that the foot be placed at the front of the starting platform and not be adjusted forward following the “take your mark” command. If the swimmer takes a position at the front surface of the platform, but not quite at the edge, this position is acceptable as long as it does not constitute a safety concern and the swimmer assumes his or her “mark” from this position. However, adjusting the foot position forward after the “take your mark” command is not permitted since such a movement would not have satisfied the foot placement requirement in the rules.

If the swimmer assumes a starting position that, in the judgment of the starter, is not at the “front of the starting platform” and starting from that position would constitute a safety concern, the starter may instruct the swimmer to correct the foot placement. A simple request, such as “Lane 4, at least one foot must be at the front of the starting platform” would suffice. Note again that “front” does not necessarily mean “front edge”, so any instructions given must conform to the rule. If, in the starter’s judgment, the foot position is sufficient far forward such that the swimmer could assume their “mark” from that position, the starter should simply give the “take your mark” command.

If the starter gives the “take your mark” command and the swimmer adjusts the foot position forward, the starter should release swimmers through the “stand” command. Many times simply giving the command again will correct any issues with foot placement, but the starter could also simply provide the instruction “Lane 4, at least one foot must be at the front of the starting platform”. If the swimmer repeats this action, the starter should ask all swimmers to step down and discuss the situation with the swimmer.

Body Position During In-Water Starts

(Officials Committee, 2009, "Meet Situation #3")

Question: During a heat of the Women’s 100-yard Freestyle, two swimmers in the heat elect to start in the water. The Starter instructs the swimmer in lane two that she must face the course when starting since the forward start is being used. The swimmer complies and the Starter proceeds to start the heat. Is the Starter correct? 

Answer: The USA-Swimming glossary defines the forward start as a “forward entry facing the course”. Thus, the Starter concluded that the swimmer should be facing the course prior to the start. 

However, USMS Rules do not define the forward start in the manner. Moreover, USMS rules stipulate that either a backstroke start or a forward start may be used in a Freestyle event. In any event except for backstroke, swimmers may start from the block, deck, or in the water. 

The requirements for starting in the water are specified in USMS Rule 101.1.1. The swimmer must have at least one hand in contact with the wall or starting block and one foot in contact with the wall. Swimmers who start from the deck or the block must have at least one foot at the front of the block or deck prior to the command “Take Your Mark”. (A difference between USMS and USA-Swimming rules.) The starter should correct swimmers who fail to comply with any of these requirements, but there is no need to instruct swimmers to face the course when starting in the water. 

The same is true for breaststroke, butterfly, or individual medley events, but the swimmer must be toward the breast when the feet leave the wall after the start. 

Toe Placement During Backstroke Starts

(Officials Committee, 2009, "Meet Situation #4")

Question: During a heat of the Men’s 50-meter backstroke, the Starter instructs the swimmer in lane 3 that he must adjust his foot placement such that the toes are below the line of the gutter. Is the starter correct?

Answer: The requirements for backstroke starts are in USMS rule 101.1.2. Both hands must be in contact with the gutter or starting grips. Standing in the gutter, placing the toes over the lip of the gutter, or bending the toes over the lip of the gutter before or after the start is prohibited. Thus, the starter’s instructions were correct. 

The starter is responsible for enforcing the correct starting position before the start. (In backstroke events, judging the foot position after the start becomes the Stroke and Turn Judge’s responsibility.) Starters should also remember that any verbal instructions provided to swimmers should be given in a calm, conversational tone.

Backstroke Turn

(Kathy Casey, Nov 2010)

Question: Has the backstroke turn changed? I do an open turn and was told that if I turn to my side as I come in, I must do a flip. I was told that when I turned toward my breast, I should have done a flip turn. 

Answer: If you were disqualified because you did not do a flip turn, that is an incorrect interpretation of the rule. If you were disqualified for not initiating the turn or for a noncontinuous turning action after turning past vertical toward the breast, those are correct interpretations of the rule (101.4.3). The USMS Rule Book specifically notes in 101.4.3 that a swimmer can turn toward the breast and do an open turn.

Breaststroke Kick

(Kathy Casey, Nov 2010)

Question: I’m asking for some clarification on 101.2.3. The last sentence says, “Breaking the surface of the water with the feet is allowed unless followed by a downward butterfly (dolphin) kick.” This applies to the dolphin kick permitted after the start and turn, correct? It seems obvious, but I just wanted to check since dolphin kick at any other time is not allowed.

Answer: No, it refers to the breaststroke kick during the entire race. A swimmer’s feet can break the surface of the water during the breaststroke kick, and it is not a disqualification, unless it is followed by a downward dolphin kick (or unless there is a scissors, flutter, non-simultaneous movement of the legs, or the movement of the legs is not in the same horizontal plane). The dolphin kick after the start and the turn of course includes the downward portion of the butterfly (dolphin) kick, and that is permitted ONLY after the start and the turn and must be followed by a breaststroke kick. If the swimmer happens to be on the surface when taking that single, butterfly (dolphin) kick and happens to break the surface of the water with the feet, that is also not a disqualification. 

Counters for the 400-Meter Freestyle

(Officials Committee)

A swimmer may appoint a counter for events of 16 lengths or more except for the individual medley (USMS 102.10.6A).  It is a violation of USMS rules to deny a swimmer a counter for events of 16 lengths or more except for the IM.  It is standard in USMS to allow counters for the 400 freestyle.  Until 2011, the rule was the same for USA Swimming.  As of 2011 USA Swimming only allows counters for the 500/1000/1650 yard or 800/1500 meter freestyle (USA-S 102.6A).   The USMS Rules Committee considered the new USA-S rule regarding counters and chose to maintain the USMS rule allowing counters for the 400 meter freestyle.

However, even though USMS allows counters for the 400 freestyle, note that there is no warning signal for the 400 freestyle, because a starter or designee shall sound a warning signal in events 500 yards or longer (USMS 103.8.7).

FINA allows counters only for the 800/1500 meter freestyle and counting is done by officials, Inspectors of Turns, in descending order (FINA SW 2.6.3).

Written Split Requests

(Kathy Casey, Nov 2010)

Question: I swam a 1500 SCM and knew I could get the 800 LMSC record with an initial split. Having never done such a thing before, I read the rules and tried to follow them. I approached the meet referee and tried to submit my split request in writing. He didn't want to take the form, saying that the split time would show up in the meet results anyway. I used the meet results to submit the split time to the LMSC records officer. It apparently was not an "official" time under USMS rules, and would not have counted for Top 10 (which was not a concern!).

Answer: Your written request for the split should have been accepted by the referee and your split time, if it was an automatic time, for the 800 should have been included in your LMSC's submission for USMS Top 10. USMS requirements for official split times are different than those for other swimming organizations and are published in the "Differences" documents for all the swimming governing bodies in Appendix B of the USMS Rule Book. For USA Swimming, the Differences are published in both the USMS Rule Book and the USA Swimming Rule Book. MS2.6.4, page 120, of the USMS Rule Book explains written notice of splits to the referee as well as other USMS split requirements that differ from USA Swimming rules.

Short vs. Long Whistle

(Officials Committee, 2009, "Meet Situation #1")

Question: At the start of a heat of the Men’s 100-meter Freestyle, the Referee gives the “short whistle” signal for swimmers to prepare for their event. Two of the swimmers in the heat step onto the starting platform. The Starter instructs the swimmers to step down and wait for the long whistle. The Referee immediately gives the “long whistle” signal to instruct the swimmers to step onto the starting platform. Was the Starter correct?

Answer: The officials were using the correct starting sequence as defined by USMS rules. The “short” whistles are used to signal to swimmers that they should remove clothing, except for swimwear, and prepare to swim. At the Referee’s long whistle, the swimmers should step up onto the block, to the edge of the pool deck, or into the water, and wait for the Starter’s command. For many reasons, it is not desirable to have swimmers step up onto the starting platform before the Referee has given the signal to do so. The officials are generally correct instructing swimmers to wait for the appropriate signal. 

However, there may be other cases where asking the swimmer to step down, only to immediately step back up, would incur an unnecessary delay in the meet and would serve no practical purpose. So, the Referee could just give the signal for the remaining swimmers to step up and start the heat normally. If, in the Referee’s judgment, this practice is causing a problem throughout the meet, he could consider an appropriate way to remind swimmers of the correct starting procedure. As officials we should remember that swimmers of all ages, ability levels, and experience levels participate in masters meets and we should take this into account in providing instructions to swimmers. Sometimes “as good as it gets” is good enough. 

Side Judges and Jurisdiction

(Officials Committee, 2009, "Meet Situations #5-6")

Question 1: During a heat of the Men’s 100-yard Backstroke, a Stroke and Turn Official stationed on the side of the pool observes a swimmer in lane two roll past the vertical onto the breast after passing the backstroke flags, take one arm pull, and kick several yards into the wall before executing the turn. The official stationed at the turn end was watching an adjacent lane and did not see the entire turning motion of the swimmer in lane two. However, the side judge raised her hand immediately and reported an infraction to the Referee, citing a non-continuous turning action. The Referee disallowed the infraction on the basis that it was not within the side judge’s jurisdiction. Who is right? 

Question 2: The Men’s 100-yard backstroke is being run with judges at the start and finish ends of the pool. Due to a shortage of officials, there are no judges stationed on the side of the pool and no official stationed at the 15-meter mark. The judge on the turn end observes that the swimmer in lane four was underwater well past the 15-meter mark, surfacing near the backstroke flags. The judge raises his hand and reports the infraction to the Referee. The swimmer’s coach challenges the call on the basis that there were no judges on the side and the turn judge did not have a sufficient vantage point to determine that the swimmer went past the 15-meter mark. How should the Referee rule? 

Answers 1 & 2: Both situations deal with the question of stroke and turn jurisdictions. The Meet Referee is responsible for defining jurisdictions and these may vary from meet to meet, depending on many factors, including the number of available officials, the experience level of officials, the size of the meet, the format of the meet, and configuration of the pool. The objective is to “balance the deck”, providing the best coverage possible, and ensuring that each swimmer is judged fairly and consistently. Many times, we do not have a sufficient number of officials to cover all jurisdictions optimally and must combine assignments and jurisdictions accordingly. But, this must always be done in a way that provides fair and equitable officiating for all swimmers. 

Regardless of the assigned jurisdictions, the Referee must ensure that disqualifications are backed up by a clear and convincing observation from the official. That includes ensuring that the official was in the appropriate position to be able to clearly see the infraction.

Both situations are judgment calls that the Referee must make. In the first situation, if the turn judge was assigned jurisdiction over backstroke turns, the Referee is probably correct to overrule the side judge. Although the side judge may have seen the infraction clearly, it is not necessarily fair to have the same swimmer judged by two different officials for the same action. Moreover, although the side judge may have been able to see the turn infraction, the officials on the other side of pool may not have been judging this area since the turn judges were assigned this jurisdiction. Thus, allowing the DQ could create an imbalance where some lanes are judged by a different standard than others. 

If, however, the Referee had specifically assigned “wall to wall” jurisdiction for the side judges, the call could be upheld if all lanes were being judged the same and the official could clearly see the infraction. 

In the second case, it depends on how the Referee has assigned the jurisdictions, how clearly the turn judge can see all of the swimmers in his jurisdiction, and how clear the observation is. Although it is preferable to call this type of infraction from the side (with an official stationed at the 15-meter mark), some meets will operate with officials only at the ends, with the officials having jurisdiction over both stroke and turn infractions. If each lane is being judged in the same way, and the turn judge can clearly observe that the swimmer was underwater the entire distance and was clearly past the 15-meter mark, the Referee can approve the DQ. If, however, this standard cannot be satisfied, the “benefit of the doubt” concept must and the Referee should disallow it.  In most pools, it is probably very difficult to discern where the swimmer surfaced relative to the 15-meter mark if viewed from the ends. 

In any case, the Referee should clearly establish the positions and jurisdictions as part of the mandatory pre-meet briefing for officials. 

Timing System Malfunction and Placement of Finish

(Officials Committee, "Meet Situation #8")

Question: After the Men's 50-meter Freestyle, the results are published as follows:

1. Joe Schmoe   :26.52
2. John Doe       :26.53

Mr. Doe's coach protests to the Referee, claiming that his swimmer clearly finished ahead of Mr. Schmoe and therefore, there must be a mistake. The Referee and Starter confer and both also remember that Mr. Doe finished ahead of Mr. Schmoe head-to-head in the same heat. The Referee consults with the automatic timing system operator, who reports that there were no clearly identifiable malfunctions of the timing system. The Referee decides that since two officials independently observed a different order of finish other than what was indicated by time, the results should be adjusted. A revised result is published as follows:

1. John Doe        :26.51
2. Joe Schmoe    :26.52

Mr. Schmoe's coach then protests the revised result. The Referee throws his hands up, declares a tie, and heads for the bar next door to the pool. Who is correct?

Answer: The rules indicate that if times are available from a properly functioning automatic timing system, those times shall be the official times of the swimmers. The Referee can, however, determine that there was a timing system malfunction, and make an adjustment.

It is a good practice for the Referee (or his designee) to record in writing the order of finish, by lane, during each heat. Typically, the Referee could make this observation and then also instruct the Starter or another official to do so as well. This written record would serve as check in case of a timing system malfunction or other administrative problem with the results (swimmer in the wrong lane, for example).

U.S. Masters Swimming rules do not provide for the ability to use the "place judge" record to determine the order of finish (USA-Swimming rules still provide for a "judges' decision", but only when manual timing is used and only if certain conditions are met on the officials observations). So, the Referee cannot use his observation as the sole means to revise the results. Memories are also faulty and should never be solely relied upon. Write everything down!

If the Referee's written observation indicated a possible error, he could check with the timing system operator. Timing system operators should be placed, whenever possible, at the finish end of the pool with a clear view of all lanes. The operator may observe a timing system malfunction and should also make a written note of the observation immediately. However, timing system operators are not authorized to make adjustments to official times unless directed to do so by the Referee.

There are two general types of timing system malfunctions. One is a malfunction that affects an entire lane (example: the timing system fails to start when the starting signal is given, resulting in a late start). The other is a malfunction affecting only a single lane. An example of the latter would be the common occurrence of a swimmer not touching the pad at the finish or a malfunction at the finish that fails to record a proper finish time.

It is possible in this case that Mr. Doe’s time was the result of a late pad touch. The Referee’s observation on the order of finish may be an indication to that effect. If the Referee suspects such an error, he could examine the pad times, backup times, and watch times for corroboration. A late pad touch could be corroborated by the timing system operator’s observation or by data indicating a larger difference between pad and backup times on Mr. Doe’s lane than would otherwise normally be expected. If the Referee determines that the pad time is not accurate, he can discard the pad time and then make a correction to the backup time according to the process described in the rule book.

A “vertical” correction would consist of determining the average difference between the pad time and the backup time on the same lane for many heats and then applying this correction factor to the backup time.  A “horizontal” correction would consist of determining the average difference between the pad time and the backup time on each lane of the same heat and then applying that correction. Either method is valid, but in the case of a close race or when records are involved, the vertical correction is sometimes more accurate since it uses the same equipment and timers on the same lane to determine the system error. Essentially the correction method attempts to calculate the inherent system error with backup times that results from manual starts and finishes if there is a failure of the fully automatic system. It is important to note that corrected times are considered just as valid as the system to which they are being corrected.

In other words, if the Referee discarded the pad time for Mr. Doe because it was inaccurate and then corrected Mr. Doe’s backup time using the method described above, the corrected time is considered the same as a recorded pad time for purposes of records and top ten considerations.

Normally the Timing Judge is the official that examines all of the data from each race and determines the official time. Referees should instruct timing judges on the means for determining timing system errors and corrections prior to the meet. Timing Judges should always bring questionable situations to the Referee’s attention for resolution. Worksheets with all of the calculations should be saved as part of the timing data and retained by the Meet Director with the results in case of questions.

If there is no timing system error, then the Referee should let the initial result stand. It is never acceptable to artificially adjust a time   without using the timing system and backup data to compute the correction. If that is the case in this situation, the Referee may consider having his vision checked and Mr. Doe can consult with certain Ukrainian Olympic butterfly swimmers for support.


(Officials Committee, 2009, "Meet Situation #2")

Question: During a heat of the 1000-yard Freestyle, a Stroke and Turn Official observes that the swimmer in lane four is wearing a wristwatch. The official reports the observation to the Deck Referee, who disqualifies the swimmer for using a device that may aid in pacing. Is the Referee correct?

Answer: USMS rules do not permit the use of any device which may aid the swimmer’s speed, pace, or buoyancy (102.15.9). However, in this case, the official only reported an observation that the swimmer was wearing a pacing device. USMS and USA-Swimming have interpreted this rule to mean that the swimmer must be using the device, not just simply wearing it. 

In order for any disqualification to be valid, the official must provide a clear and definitive observation to the satisfaction of the Referee. In this case, if the official only reported that the swimmer was wearing a watch, the observation does not reflect a violation of the rule and the Referee should not have approved the disqualification. 

In order to show that the swimmer was using a pacing device, the official would have to clearly observe actions that support this conclusion. Some examples could be: 

  • The official observes the swimmer pressing buttons on a watch to record split times before and/or during a race.
  • The official observes the swimmer looking at a watch display multiple times during the race. 
  • The official hears an audible sound coming from the device at regular intervals during the race. 

Remember that if the official is not clear about what they observe, the “benefit of the doubt” concept will apply and the swimmer should not be disqualified.  

Medic Alert Bracelet

(Kathy Casey, Nov 2010; Officials Committee "Meet Situation #12")

Question: I wear a medic alert bracelet and have been told by some referees that it is not allowed to be worn during competition. What is the official ruling on this? I have a chronic disease, and thus my physicians have advised that I not remove the bracelet.

Answer: You can wear the medic alert bracelet. It doesn’t provide any potential benefit for speed, and it is essentially a doctor’s note providing necessary information about life-threatening medical issues. A doctor’s note requesting that the medic alert bracelet be worn during competition is not necessary. In fact, USMS has no rule addressing jewelry for pool competition. Some officials may remember the old “watch rule,” a former interpretation of the rule banning any device or substance to help speed, pace, buoyancy, or endurance (102.14.3 in the 2010 rule book, 102.14.6 in the emergency swimwear rule changes) that banned wrist watches from competition. That interpretation has not been in effect since June 2006. Note to officials: forcing a swimmer to remove a medic alert bracelet could cause liability issues for USMS if a medical emergency occurs resulting in injury or death.

Modification of Rules for Injured Swimmer

(Officials Committee, "Disability Situation #1")

Question: A swimmer approaches the Meet Referee and provides a note from a physical therapist that states that the swimmer has a condition which results in injury if the right arm moves forward when swimming. The swimmer proposes that she be permitted to swim without moving the affected arm.
What should the Referee do?

Answer: The rules grant the Meet Referee the authority to modify the rules for a swimmer with a disability. Article 108 of the U.S. Masters Swimming Rule Book provides guidelines for these modifications. A disability is defined as a permanent physical or cognitive disability that substantially limits one or more major life activities. It does not apply to temporary injuries or other conditions. Article 108 provides guidelines and suggestions for making such modifications, but the decision is ultimately in the hands of the Referee. Article 108 states that it is the swimmer’s responsibility to notify the Referee of a disability. So, the swimmer did the right thing by notifying the Referee prior to the competition. The swimmer (or the swimmer’s coach) should propose a modification on which the Referee can make a ruling. The Referee should first determine whether the physical condition described by the swimmer meets the requirements of Article 108. The standard of determination is one of “common sense”. The Referee is not expected to evaluate medical evidence or render medical judgments. A doctor’s note might be appropriate as part of the decision making process, but is not required, nor does it necessarily bind the Referee in making a determination. In this case, the Referee could consider the note from the doctor or therapist, but this is likely insufficient to make a determination. The Referee should ask the swimmer several more questions to determine whether his condition is a “permanent disability that substantially limits a major life activity”. The Referee might ask the following questions:•

  • How long has the swimmer experienced the condition?
  • How long is it expected to last? Is it expected to get better?
  • How does this condition limit the swimmer’s daily life activities?
  • Does this condition limit the swimmer’s use of the arm in activities other than swimming?
  • Under what conditions does swimming contribute to the injury described?
  • All of the time? Some of the time? Under what conditions?

If the condition is a result of an injury and the swimmer is receiving medical treatment that would be expected to improve it, the condition likely does not meet the requirements of Article 108. If the condition does not result in a physical limitation, but only results in a risk of injury that occurs under some conditions, the Referee could also determine that this is not a permanent disability. If, on the other hand, the condition is a permanent one that substantially limits the swimmers ability to move the shoulder or arm, the Referee may determine that a permanent disability exists and that a rule modification is permitted.

The second step is for the Referee to determine if the proposed modification is fair and feasible. The standard should be ensuring that the swimmer has a fair opportunity to participate in competition. (Note the emphasis on participation, there is no guarantee of success!) The proposed modification must also be fair to other swimmers in the competition. A modification that would provide an advantage over the other competitors would not meet this standard.

The general guideline for judging strokes is that if a part of the body is absent or cannot be used, it is not judged. If the Referee determines that the condition is a permanent one and that swimmer is unable to physically comply with the rules for a particular stroke, he or she may approve a modification.

In this case, the swimmer could swim freestyle or backstroke using only one arm. No rule modification is required since this action would already be legal. The Referee could approve a modification allowing the swimmer to swim butterfly and/or breaststroke with only one arm if he determines that the swimmer cannot use the other arm and cannot physically comply with the rules that require simultaneous movement of the arms. If the Referee determines that a physical disability exists, but that the modification proposed is unacceptable, he should work with the swimmer to develop an acceptable modification that promotes inclusion and provides a fair opportunity for the swimmer to participate in competition.

For example, the Referee could determine that swimmer is able to use the arm, but has a limited range of motion. In this case, a modification that would permit the swimmer to swim butterfly or breaststroke, but with a non-simultaneous arm stroke or without touching the wall with two hands on turns and finishes, might be appropriate. The Referee should instruct officials on any modifications in the pre-meet briefings and note the affected event, heat, and lane numbers.

It is important to note that determinations made for one meet do not set precedence for other meets. The Meet Referee must make a determination at each and every meet. In the interest of communication, Referees are encouraged to report any rulings in their post-meet reports so these can be evaluated and we can pass along lessons learned to all officials.

Modification of Rules for Permanently-Disabled Swimmer

(Officials Committee, "Disability Situation #2")

Question: A swimmer approaches the Referee and asks to use a hand paddle in a race because the loss of fingers on one hand makes it difficult to pull. The Referee allows the use of the hand paddle on the basis that the swimmer would lack pulling power with one arm and would therefore be at a significant disadvantage. Following the meet, a coach from another team protests this action on the basis that Article 108 (Guidelines for Swimmers with Disabilities) specifically prohibits aids to speed, pace, or buoyancy. Who is correct?

Answer: The swimmer (or the swimmer’s coach) is responsible for bringing situations to the Referee’s attention. The swimmer did the right thing by bringing the disability to the attention of the Referee and proposing a modification. The Referee is also correct in that Article 108 provides the authority to modify the rules to accommodate disabilities. The standard for these decisions is “common sense”. Referees are not expected to evaluate detailed medical evidence or be experts in IPC procedures or classifications. In this case, the Referee made a good faith judgment based on information available and talking to the swimmer. Therefore, an after the fact “protest” against the Referee’s ruling by another party would not be considered. Since rulings only apply to specific meets, the modification would not necessarily be accepted at future meets.

The first step in evaluating proposed rule modifications is to determine if the condition meets the requirements for a permanent physical disability. Given the description, there is no question as to the “permanence” of the condition. The swimmer is missing part of a limb, which would clearly qualify under the guidelines of Article 108. However, in making a ruling, the Referee could go further and assess how the disability limits the swimmer in daily life functions. For example, the Referee could ask what the swimmer normally does in workouts? Is it possible to swim without the aid of any devices? Would the swimmer otherwise be able to participate in the meet if the request was not granted?

Once we have established that we have a permanent condition, the Referee can rule on the proposed modification. The standard of determination is that the proposed modification should promote inclusion, be feasible, and be fair. It is important to note that the goal is to ensure that the swimmer has an opportunity to participate. We are not out to “level the playing field” or provide any assurances of success in competition. Judgments should not be based on our perceptions of how well or how fast the swimmer can swim, only whether we can promote inclusion and provide a fair opportunity to swim. Thus, the observation that the swimmer would be at a disadvantage because he lacked pulling power with one arm is not necessarily a relevant factor. The determining factor would be the swimmer’s ability to participate and comply with the rules.

The modification has to be fair not only to the swimmer, but also to the other competitors. A device which provides an advantage to the swimmer may not be a fair modification if other swimmers are prohibited from using them. In general, devices such as pull buoys, paddles, and other similar equipment would not be permitted since they are considered aids to speed, pace, or buoyancy. This is a general guideline, however, and there could be a situation where use of a device is the only way to provide for participation.

If the proposed modification is not acceptable, the Referee should explore other ways to promote inclusion. The Referee could instruct officials that the swimmer is not able to comply with the portions of the rule that require a simultaneous arm movement and touch in breaststroke and butterfly. The rule requiring the swimmer to grip the backstroke bar with both hands could be modified. Any other assistance with starts, entering or exiting the pool, can be provided. The Referee should work with the swimmer to determine an appropriate means that would allow the swimmer to participate.