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by Donna Springer

October 14, 2009

U.S. Masters Swimming invites and embraces athletes of every shape, size, age, ability and experience level. This often means that we see adults in their forties, fifties and beyond at the starting blocks for the first time. Racing can be intimidating for anyone, but not understanding the rules of a race can cause even more angst for the newbie behind the blocks. Donna Springer of St. Louis, Missouri, shares her experience of getting disqualified, the confusion it caused her and her disqualification research that she hopes will help others better understand the race and all of its elements.

“In my forties I breaststroked along a 50-meter pool in my first race ever. Nearing the end of the race I looked ahead to see that I had no more than three strokes until I would touch the wall. One… two… three. ‘Finished.’ As I climbed out of the pool, satisfied, I heard, ‘Disqualified.’ What?! Why?! How?! Evidently I had not touched the wall with both hands simultaneously and thus provided grounds for disqualification.”

For more information on this disqualification refer to rule 101.2.4 on page 2 of the U.S. Masters Swimming Rule Book.

“Some years later, at my first Senior Olympic competition, I decided to try the 50 breaststroke again. As I made my way down the lane a huge wave from a nearby competitor came rushing at me. With an open mouth I swallowed some water and began to panic. To regain my cool I stepped on the bottom of the pool and re-established my breathing pattern. Refocused, I returned to my breaststroke and finished the race. ‘If you stand on the bottom, you’re disqualified,’ one of the officials explained to me. ‘You might as well learn this early in your swimming career.’ Although I was 54, it was early in my swimming career. Discouraged? Yes, but I appreciated this official’s implication that there was, “life ahead” for me. She was right; I had many more breaststroke races to swim.”

For more information on this disqualification refer to rule 102.15.5 on page 14 of the U.S. Masters Swimming Rule Book.

“Now, fast forward a few more years and see me at the age of 60. This time I was on deck to swim the 200 meter individual medley. At some point during my swimming career I got the impression that breaststroke was the first leg of the IM. I was wrong. ‘We start with the fly,’ a man in my heat said. I immediately tracked down my coach to get some clarity on the subject of stroke order. He gave me a clear explanation of the stroke order and I promptly made my way back to the block.”

For more information on this disqualification refer to rule 101.6.3B on page 4 of the U.S. Masters Swimming Rule Book.

“After my race I looked over to my coach who seemed somewhat confused as he held up the yellow disqualification slip. ‘Wrong order?’ he asked. Evidently I had heard and understood bits and pieces of his stroke order explanation, but it seemed as though I had not paid close attention to the explanation of the middle two strokes, which I had swum out of order. The order of my strokes was not the only mistake that I had made during that race. I also read, ‘underwater recovery’ on my yellow slip.”

For more information on this disqualification, you may refer to rule 101.3.2 on page 3 of the U.S. Masters Swimming Rule Book.

“Determined not to let this race affect my upcoming events, I refocused; my next race, the 50-meter butterfly, was about to begin. Whoosh … I dove in for the 50-meter butterfly and much to my dismay, my goggles slid down my cheeks. Careful not to touch the bottom of the pool (I had already learned this lesson), I adjusted my goggles for the next 40 or more meters as I swam. ‘Your stroke looked good this time, but any non-stroke movement during a competition means automatic disqualification,’ said the official. Ugh. Again?!”

For more information on this disqualification, you may refer to rule 101.3.2 on page 3 of the U.S. Masters Swimming Rule Book. According to the Rule Book, both arms must be brought forward over the water and pulled back simultaneously in butterfly. A break in the stroke cycle is not allowed (not even to adjust goggles).

Disqualifications can be a hazard in the life of the swimmer. Each of us learns the hard way most of the time. Some of us are lucky enough to learn from others’ mistakes. After a string of disqualifications, Donna researched her DQs in the U.S. Masters Swimming Rule Book.

For a complete list of rules, regulations and disqualification standards see the 2009 United States Masters Swimming Code of Regulations and Rules of Competition.

Donna Springer has “lived and learned,” and according to her, she continues to swim ahead. She hopes that her experiences have shed some light on the issue of disqualification and encourages everyone to learn the rules of racing.