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Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Open Water DQ - What Happened In New Zealand?

Australian Trent Grimsey was disqualified at last weekend's State Harbour Crossing in Round 2 of the New Zealand Ocean Swim Series.

Grimsey won the 2.9km open water swim across the Waitemata Harbour by more than a minute. It was a clear victory, but event director Scott Rice rules that Grimsey obstructed fellow competitor Troy Prinsloo at about a third of the way through the race.

Video evidence of the infractions will reportedly be posted by the New Zealand Ocean Swim Series soon.

"Trent is an outstanding swimmer in superb form, but we have to ensure that every competitor is given an equal opportunity to win, and in this case that didn’t happen," explained Rice.

According to a pres release issued by Rice, "Such behavior is illegal under the rules of the New Zealand Ocean Swim Series."

So what are the rules of the Series and the sport of open water swimming in general?

Grimsey commented on the disqualification, "I dispute the allegations made...it is my understanding that no complaint was received by the race director from any competitor in the race to bring about this action. Unfortunately I am in a position where this race is not run according to FINA, Swimming New Zealand or Surf Life Saving rules."

The details of the disqualification will be evident once the video is made publicly available, but the swimmers believe the disqualification was called because of the physicality between Grimsey and South African Troy Prinsloo before the halfway point during the race. When Grimsey, one of the most experienced open water swimmers in the world, stopped and swam off the rhumb line, Prinsloo was behind him. Reportedly, Grimsey's vertical position in the water caused Prinsloo come to a sudden stop. Prinsloo into Grimsey and then swam on, as did Grimsey.

While the rules of the New Zealand Ocean Swim Series may differ, there are two possible rules that may apply in this situation under standard FINA international rules:

FINA OWS 6.3.1 "If in the Opinion of the Chief Referee, any swimmer ... makes intentional contact with any swimmer, the following proceeding shall apply: 1st infringement - a yellow flag and a card bearing the swimmer's number shall be raised to indicate and to inform the swimmer that he is in violation of the Rules. 2nd infringement - a red flag and a card bearing the swimmer's number shall be raised by the Referee to indicate and to inform the swimmer that he is for the second time in violation of the rules. The swimmer shall be disqualified. He must leave the water immediately and be placed in an escort craft, and take no further part in the race."

FINA OWS 6.3.2 "If in the opinion of a Referee, an action of a swimmer is deemed to be 'unsporting' the referee shall disqualify the swimmer concerned immediately."

Under FINA OWS 6.3.2, it has been the established understanding among international referees that 'unsporting' conduct usually consists of a punch, elbow, kick thrown in the direction of another swimmer or a pull back of the ankles or legs of another swimmer.

It is much less clear - and very rarely called in any amateur or professional open water swimming competitions - when a swimmer in front comes to a gradual or sudden stop and causes a trailing swimmer to swim into the lead swimmer. The reasoning is because the swimmer behind has the responsibility to look where they are going. Just as they would avoid jetsam and other obstructions in the water, the trailing swimmer should logically avoid a stopped swimmer in front of them.

Even if their forward progress is impacted, swimming into another swimmer from behind is rarely called. This occurrence frequently happens during races around buoy turns or at feeding stations. It occurs at the elite level and at the amateur level frequently, especially in large races. It also occurs among triathletes and it occurs among fitness swimmers in races, especially at the start of races. The physicality of competition is an accepted part of the sport, even when a swimmer suddenly stops to clear their goggles of water or to look up at the turn buoys ahead.

The more difficult and subjective judgment is whether or not the action by Grimsey - or any swimmer - is intentional during the course of the race. That is, did Grimsey purposefully stop with the intention to make physical contact with Prinsloo in order to specifically hamper, slow or stop Prinsloo or another athlete? According to the rules, unintentional contact between swimmers is acceptable, but intentional contact among swimmers is not. This judgement has always been difficult for referees. It is always controversial when a referee makes a disqualification call because of intent.

Like many others, we look forward to seeing the video of the race and the reasons for the disqualification.

Copyright © 2012 by Open Water Source

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