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Monday, June 4, 2012

Medleying In The Open Water

Some swimmers use butterfly the last few meters of their open water swims. Many swimmers roll over on their backs and do backstroke during their swims to relieve their shoulders and necks. Others switch over to breaststroke for a change of pace or to get a better view of what lies ahead.

While all open water swims are technically freestyle events, mixing in butterfly, backstroke and breaststroke is occasionally used by some open water swimmers.

But there are also formal breaststroke open water swimming races held in the Netherlands and elsewhere. And there are also a small subset of open water swimmers who use non-freestyle strokes during their solo marathon swims. Examples of these non-freestyle records in the Catalina Channel and the English Channel include:

Butterfly, Catalina Channel: Vicki Keith (Canada) 14:53
Butterfly, English Channel: Julie Bradshaw (UK) 14:18

Backstroke,Catalina Channel: Tina Neill (USA) 10:37
Backstroke,English Channel: Tina Neill (USA) 13:22

Breaststroke, Catalina Channel: Jason Lassen (USA) 15:59
Breaststroke, English Channel: Frederik Jaques (Belgium) 13:31

Freestyle has never been the only way to go in the open water - Captain Matthew Webb gave a boost to the non-freestyle approach when he crossed the English Channel during breaststroke in 1875. From Chicago to the Netherlands, individuals are doing butterfly, backstroke and breaststroke on their open water swims of all distances.

Even individual medley has taken form from San Francisco to Dover. Across the Golden Gate Bridge course, Tom Keller, Michael Chase and Jon Ennis from the Dolphin Club did the Golden Gate Medley Swim on August 2010. Later, the Julie Bradshaw International Medley Relay completed the first individual relay swim across the English Channel.

Dale Petranech of the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame, has proposed specific guidelines and document traditions and records in non-traditional marathon swims around the world.

"There is a small group of swimmers that use non-conventional, non-freestyle strokes - backstroke, breaststroke, butterfly, sidestroke and trudgeon strokes to swim the entire distance in open water swimming competitions, relays or solo swims. From the historical point of view, breaststroke was recognized as an official stroke and records posted accordingly. Most of the very early swims were breaststroke."

Despite these special strokes being listed, we are unable to find any records of rules or regulations pertain to the special strokes used in open water. For our pool swimming colleagues, most of the technical rules for the other strokes apply to starts and turns and limit the distance a person could remain underwater.

The interpretation of what FINA considers a legal stokes are in a constant state of review. Also, in the FINA Masters Swimming Rules, a breaststroke kick is permitted in the butterfly. Being practical, the pool stroke rules have little application to open water

It may be difficult or impossible for the sport of open water swimming to establish and maintain the stroke requirements as so specifically outlined in pool swimming. Petranech outlines examples of items that the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame is considering in open water swimming events. Its board of directors will discuss and develop reasonable guidelines for the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame Record a Swim Program on September 21st in Long Beach.*

1. Several organizations require that a swimmer start onshore, walk into the water, start swimming and finish after they clear the water on the opposite shore. Swimmers still need to conform to this requirement, but backstrokers need not walk in backwards and breaststrokers do not need to simultaneously touch the opposite shore with two hands.

2. It is impossible to maintain an acceptable stroke treading water while feeding or taking a short rest break. Swimmers need the latitude to stop using the stroke of choice during these periods. If a swimmer takes frequent feedings, the total number of stops may seem rather large. Feeding every half hour in a 10-hour swim means that swimmer would have up to twenty interruptions in the chosen specialty stroke. Breaks in the traditional specialty swim stroke would result in only brief periods when the swimmer was treading water. As long as no major distance (e.g., over 2 meters) is covered during these feeding stops, the swim can be considered a non-stop specialty stroke swim.

3. Because of surf conditions, the swimmer may be battered about and not be able to keep their precise stroke symmetry at all times or may be rolled over from his/her backstroke position. In these and similar situations, the swimmer cannot be held responsible for not maintaining a proper stroke according to traditional pool swimming rules.

4. If a swimmer has an encounter with marine life (e.g., sharks or jellyfish) or becomes entangled in seaweed, flotsam or jetsam, the swimmer may not be able to keep their precise stroke symmetry at all times or may be shocked from their normal specialty stroke position. In these and similar situations, the swimmer should be allowed a reasonable time and distance to free themselves from immediate danger or risk of injury.

5. If swimmers so designate their swim as following the acceptable masters pool swimming rule, swimmers may use the masters swimming rule permitting a breaststroke kick while swimming butterfly.

6. As fatigue sets in butterfly or the water conditions get very rough, swimmers may have problems getting their arms completely out of the water that could result in a sideward splash and technically an illegal stroke from the perspective of a pool swimming official. The proposal calls for acceptance of these situations until the swimmer is no longer able get their arms out of the water. In these cases, the swimmer and observer would acknowledge the situation and could declare the special stroke swim over with the option of continuing freestyle.

7. In the case of nighttime swimming during a backstroke swim, swimmers may temporarily lose sight of their escort boat. In these cases, an ability to overlook a rolling over on the stomach or side should be allowed for safety purposes.

8. If swimmers decide to abandon the special stroke swim for any reason (e.g., safety, lack of an ability to see), they can always continue swimming as a freestyle swimmer.

* The International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame board of directors meeting will be held at the Queen Mary Hotel in Long Beach, California on September 21st. Copyright © 2012 by Open Water Source

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