Two rule changes that officials say could cause backstroke world records to fall dramatically were announced by swimming’s world governing body today.
FINA, the swimming federation, said backstrokers will be able to stay underwater after starts and turns for 15 meters, instead of the 10 meters in effect since the Seoul Olympics. They also will be able to make turns without their hands touching the end walls.
In another action, FINA said swimmers would be disqualified after just one false start, rather than two as has been the case for many years.
All of the changes take effect March 3.
The underwater start was perfected by U.S. world record-holder Dave Berkoff, who swam almost 35 meters underwater at the Seoul Olympics to claim the gold.
FINA slapped an immediate 10-meter limit on the underwater swimmers--a limit that causes real problems for the likes of American Jeff Rouse.
The 6-foot-3 Rouse, ranked No. 1 in the world in the 100-meter backstroke now that Berkoff has retired, struggles to surface in 10 meters, risking disqualification.
U.S. team spokesman Jeff Dimond said the extra underwater distance could help Rouse slice a full second off his personal best time of 54.79 seconds and snare Berkoff’s 54.51 world mark.