With swimmers from Africa and Europe to the Americas, Oceania and Asia doing more and more non-freestyle swims in the open water, the issue of how to define butterfly, backstroke and breaststroke in the open water has been a topic in the global open water swimming community for some time.*
The World Open Water Swimming Association developed an initial set of rules to govern these butterfly, backstroke and breaststroke swims and provide some guidance to both swimmers and race officials.
Butterflyers like Brenton Williams and Chris Barnard of South Africa, Dan Projansky, Charles Chapman, Jr., Brian Suddeth and Gail Rice of the USA, Hector Ramirez Ballesteros of Spain, Paolo Cerizzi of Italy, and Vicki Keith of Canada, Kathryn Mason of Australia, and Julie Bradshaw of the UK are only the tip of the iceberg.
It seems an increasingly larger number of swimmers are interested in swimming out of the traditional freestyle box in the open water, from medley swims to the popular breaststroke events in the Netherlands.
While the various channel governing bodies and other governing bodies from Europe to the Americas have their own rules and interpretations of what constitutes a butterfly open water swim, a backstroke open water swim, and a breaststroke open water swim, the World Open Water Swimming Association has announced its first draft of its butterfly regulations.
WOWSA 10.1 – While open water swims are overwhelmingly completed doing freestyle, a small number of athletes attempt and complete open water swims, including marathon swims and channel swims, using the butterfly stroke. In order for a swim to be considered a Butterfly Swim, the entire distance must be swum butterfly as defined by the following rules:
WOWSA 10.2 – From the beginning of the first arm stroke after the start (either from shore or in the water) to the finish of the swim (either onshore or in the water), the body must be kept on the stomach. While the athlete is swimming, he is not permitted to roll onto his back at any time or take any freestyle arm strokes or leg kicks, or breaststroke arm strokes or leg kicks, or do sidestroke of any type. A swimmer is allowed to stop swimming in shallow water as he approaches the shoreline and walk up on shore to clear the water as an athlete swimming freestyle would do. However, if the finish is in the water, a swimmer must simultaneously touch the finish pontoon or pad with two hands although they can be in a different plane.
WOWSA 10.3 – The athlete can stop swimming butterfly only during voluntary stops or feeding stops. During stops of any kind, the athlete must stay in the same spot and can tread water to rest or take fuel (food) or hydration (drink). They can stretch their arms, body, neck, back or legs, but they must stay in the same location.
WOWSA 10.4 – To qualify as a Butterfly Swim, both arms must be brought forward together over the water and brought backward simultaneously throughout the swim. The only acceptable exception to this rule is when a large wave, whitecaps or a boat wake prevents one or both arms from being brought forward simultaneously. In this case, the next arm stroke must continue brought forward together simultaneously.
WOWSA 10.5 – Breathing in a Butterfly Swim can be done forward or to either side of the body.
WOWSA 10.6 – All up and down movements of the legs and feet must be simultaneous. The position of the legs or the fee need not be on the same level, but they shall not alternate in relation to one another. The breaststroke or whip kick may be used exclusively or interchangeably with the dolphin kick while doing the butterfly kick while doing the butterfly stroke at any time during the race. Only one breaststroke or whip kick is permitted per arm pull.
WOWSA 10.7 – If the above rules are not adhered to, the swim will be defined as a standard (i.e., freestyle) swim.
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