Major swimming reform gains traction after prep controversy

Cameron Smith
Prep Rally

A big change could be coming to swimming before next summer's Olympics -- or the 2016 games in Rio de Janeiro-- and a high school controversy could be responsible for helping stoke the fire of reform.

Southlake Carroll boys swimming state champions
Southlake Carroll boys swimming state champions

On June 3, the publisher of Swimming World wrote an editorial calling for the suspension of all electronic relay take-off platforms until "the human element is reintroduced" in swimming judging. That call for reform followed a similar call to action from the Texas Interscholastic Swimming Coaches Association in April, with TISCA insisting that dual confirmation; i.e., a combination of electronic and video replay judging to determine disqualifications in swimming meets, is needed to protect the rights of prep swimmers in the state.

All of the hullabaloo focused on dual confirmation was started up by one big Texas mess at the state swimming and diving meet in Austin in February. At that annual event, malfunctioning timing equipment disqualified relay teams from both Southlake (Texas) Carroll High and Highland Park (Texas) High's girls swimming teams.

In total, the 2010-11 Texas state swimming and diving championships featured no fewer than 28 incidents of failed or malfunctioning timing apparatuses at the University of Texas' Lee and Joe Jamail Swimming Center, which happens to be one of the nation's premier swimming and diving venues.

In turn, those disqualifications hurt the Carroll and Highland Park girls team totals. Southlake Carroll eventually won the UIL Class 5A boys swimming and diving state title, but the Dragons should have also won the girls title, if not for the disqualification of the team's girls 400-yard freestyle relay. The Southlake Carroll girls team finished one point shy of a state crown.

Those scoring dilemmas inspired Dallas Morning News high school writer Mark Dent to call for a reversal of current protocol, advocating for human judges t0 make the initial judging decisions, with electronic timing systems serving as an appeals backup that could save a swimmer or relay team's eligibility.

That's precisely what TISCA agreed with and proposed, with Swimming World now jumping on board as well.

It goes without saying that such a move would dramatically change the course of future swimming events, particularly the Olympics, at which sophisticated timing elements stole headlines in Beijing in 2008. Whether the new reforms can be enacted before the 2012 Olympics in London remains to be seen, but the fact that a major push for reform has started in high school swimming is still a notable development, for everyone involved in both swimming and prep sports as a whole.

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