Keeping Competitive Pools Up to Date
his is an exciting time in the competitive swimming community. For decades, the rulings that govern competitive swimming have remained unchanged with regard to starting platform design. The starting platform was always to be a simple angled plane tilted not more than 10 degrees to the pool surface with a simple addition of backstroke bars designed specifically to accommodate the start of backstroke competitions.
In 2009, two major competitive swimming ruling bodies, FINA and USA Swimming, modified their rules to allow the use of an adjustable setting back plate in competitions under their sanctioning. Similar to a starting block used in running events, this provides a better transfer of energy from the swimmer's rear leg, resulting in stronger takeoffs. FINA goes a step further and now specifically allows handgrips for forward start to be installed on the sides of the starting platform for a similar reason.
Q: Do we need to update our equipment to meet the requirements of these new rules?
A: The key word is "allow." Neither ruling body mandates any of this additional equipment, so there is no need to rush out and change or enhance your equipment today.
However, the trend is clear: As we speak, coaches are coming up with teaching and training regimens that make the best use of this equipment. To ensure the fastest possible times for your swimming programs, and to continue to use your facility for major meets, you are probably going to need to consider upgrading this equipment in the near future.
Q: We'd like to upgrade our starting equipment. What do we need to know?
A: There are already a number of options. Virtually all major manufacturers of starting platforms are now prepared to provide their starting platforms with back plates, and many of these can be used with "take-off" sensor platforms from timing equipment manufacturers.
There are some things to consider, especially if your funds are limited. First, consider retrofitting enhancements to your existing platforms if upgrade kits are available from your original starting platform manufacturer. Depending on the condition of your existing equipment, this may provide all of the benefits with a much friendlier budget.
Second, if your facility hosts other types of events (such as NCAA sanctioned), consider back plates that can be readily and fully removed. As of this writing, NCAA specifically does not allow the use of the angled back plate. NCAA will allow meets on such platforms if meet officials verify that the back plates are not used during the competition. Clearly it is better and less worrisome to simply remove the back plate during events that require NCAA sanctioning. Removable back plates also are helpful for training purposes as they allow the coach or instructor to decide at what age and skill level to introduce these enhancements.
To date, Master's swimming (USMS) and high school competitions (NFHS) have not made changes to their rulings. Neither specifically allows or prohibits the use of this equipment as of this writing. Therefore, you might take a "wait and see" attitude if your pool is used exclusively for these competitions.
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