I really don’t think I’m overstating this. The breaststroke pullout may be going the way of the dodo bird.
On Nov. 29, 2014, FINA issued a ruling (here), in which they change the allowable use of a single dolphin kick following starts and turns.
The old version of rule SW 7.1 stated
After the start and after each turn, the swimmer may take one arm stroke completely back to the legs during which the swimmer may be submerged. A single butterfly kick is permitted during the first arm stroke followed by a breaststroke kick.
The new version of rule SW 7.1 states
After the start and after each turn, the swimmer may take one arm stroke completely back to the legs during which the swimmer may be submerged. At any time prior to the first Breaststroke kick after the start and after each turn a single butterfly kick is permitted.
The implications of this ruling are considerable.
Why the Rule Change?
This rule change is the result of the all-too-obvious impossibility of enforcing the rules. From the time of the 2004 Olympics when Kitajima flaunted the rules and did one / two dolphin kicks when none were allowed, to the present day with breaststrokers doing huge double or even triple dolphin kicks off the wall, the breaststroke underwater phase is a free-for-all. At the high levels it seems almost impossible to get disqualified.
To illustrate how bad it is, this video (here) shows Katinka Hosszu doing a massive double dolphin kick during the recent 2014 FINA World Short Course Championships (thanks to G. John Mullen of SwimmingScience.Net for the video). No disqualification.
The problem is that the old rule made the officials job impossible. Not only would officials have to see infractions up to 5 lanes away (in a 10-lane pool), they’d have to see it clearly through lane lines and turbulence and other swimmers. And they’d have to ensure that EACH of the 5 swimmers initiated their single dolphin kick after the hands started to separate and before the hands finished the pullout. That’s a difficult task with only one swimmer to watch. Completely impossible to verify for four or five swimmers.
This new rule throws out the dolphin kick timing issue and now says that the single dolphin kick can happen before or during the underwater pullout. It makes the officials job now slightly less impossible. But only slightly. We can still fully expect swimmers to double and triple dolphin kick, and nothing short of allowing underwater video evidence will stop that. But if that was the only implication of this new rule, then we could consider it to be unimportant.
Death of the Pullout?
But this new rule has an unintended consequence that is truly revolutionary. The dolphin kick can now be carried out INSTEAD of the underwater pullout. That’s right, you can now push off the wall, do a single dolphin kick (or 2 or 3 if you’re elite), and then pop up and swim.
The first and most obvious question is whether it’s faster. With the new FINA rules only 3 weeks old, it’s far too early to quantify any time differences. Especially as the swimming world is known for fine tuning and optimizing every possible advantage. But early testing with my team looks very interesting. Here are comparison results to 15 metres with only 5 minutes of practicing the new no-pullout option. Swimmers were reasonably fresh, and were doing 25 metre repeats with lots of rest. Note: all swimmers did just a single dolphin kick.
Clearly, with even just 5 minutes of practice playing with the dolphin kick amplitude and timing, and underwater distance, the swimmers started to match or even beat the old pullout system. It was also clear to me that as we practice this over the next few years, they’ll get better and better.
Perhaps even more important for longer races, however, is the reduced time underwater, allowing the swimmer to breathe again sooner. The table above shows that a new breath can be taken up to 1.6 seconds sooner, even in this very limited testing. Although this may not be important for rested swimmers, or for short breaststroke races.
This next table shows test results for 2 of my fatigued swimmers during the breaststroke phase of 200 IMs (long hard set with multiple 200 IMs at the end).
Here we see a clear a time advantage for the no pullout option when swimmers are fatigued and in an aerobic mode. Not only is the no pullout option faster, but the amount of time without breathing is significantly reduced. For longer races, such as the 200 Breaststroke, or 200 / 400 IM, the earlier access to oxygen when in an aerobic mode should make a big difference.
We put this to use at a meet last weekend. Swimmer A did the no-pullout option for his 200 IM in the finals. He ended up with his best breaststroke split ever, and his fastest last 100 ever. My personal opinion is that the extra access to oxygen made the difference in his case.
The latest FINA rule change for breaststroke may end up changing the nature of the stroke. The new option of a dolphin kick without a pullout definitely has a place in competitions. And while it may initially just be suitable for the IMs and possibly 200 Breaststroke, it wouldn’t surprise me if swimmers find a way to eliminate the pullout for all breaststroke swims.
We may be witnessing the end of breaststroke pullouts.