Denis Pankratov and Misty Hyman are the tip of the iceberg in a problem that international swimming once again has to contend with; but, as with icebergs, are there more surprises for swimming enthusiasts below the level of the anti-wave lane lines than we now see in butterfly swimming?
As we sat and watched, or more accurately, waited, to see the Japanese swimmer Masaru Furukawa surface in the 200 breaststroke at the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne, we witnessed the birth of a problem that has dogged the FINA Technical Committee and frustrated coaches for forty years. Furukawa surfaced only in the last five metres of the first three lengths of the race to take a breath for the next 50 m. He surfaced at the 25 m point in the last lap, and surged to the wall to take the gold medal. All at the pool had immediate visions of pearl divers off the north Western Australian coast.
Members of the Technical Committee of the time probably considered that they had put the matter of underweater swimming to rest, when they resolved to restrict breaststrokers to only one full movement underwater in any one length of the pool; and so they had, for breaststroke underwater swimming at least. Little were they to know that the same problem was to surface, or should that be 'go under,' some 32 years later.
Igor Polianski was to lose his 100 Backstroke world record to a Harvard senior in the 1988 US Olympic Trials. David Berkoff, with his submarine dolphin kick on start and turn, swam 54.95 in the prelims and broke the record again with a 54.91 in the final of the trials.
But in Olympic history it was another Japanese swimmer who was to claim victory in the 100 backstroke event in Seoul. Daichi Suzuki, who had been working on his underwater technique for ten years showed better judgement, surfacing a little before Berkoff in each length of the pool to finish 13/100ths of a second ahead of the American and snatch the gold medal. Polianski, the former world record holder, finished second in the 100 but went on to win the 200 backstroke.
FINA, using the rationale of having responsibility for the health and safety of its constituent membership across all age groups, immediately moved to restrict underwater swimming to 10 m after start or turn. This was subsequently increased to 15 m at the Perth Congress of FINA in January 1991. So, FINA had put the matter of underwater swimming to rest again; or had it?
Two years later, along came some very talented butterfly swimmers. Among them the great Russian world record holder Denis Pankratov, and a little- known Aussie girl, Angela Kennedy. Angela was to set a world best 50 Butterfly time, with great underwater dolphin technique off the start and turns, which she used to advantage in SC butterfly and backstroke, before 50 m SC records were recognised by FINA.
Pankratov of course is the master at the submarine technique as "Papillon Supremo." Now the world record holder for 100 and 200 butterfly Long and Short Course, he remains unchallenged for the number one spot. Of late we have a new submariner, allegedly using a side dolphin kick movement, break a world SC record in the Canadian Open. Misty Hyman has shown that the underwater techniques are not the sole preserve of male swimmers.
The FINA Technical Committee now has before it a motion from Australia to limit the submarine activity in Butterfly to 15 m in any one length of the pool, as it is in Backstroke.
Now, having been beaten to the punch three times, wouldn't it be smart to consider protecting the integrity of our most spectacular events--sprint freestyle--from the submariners. If you don't believe that sprint freestylers could go faster underwater for thirty or forty metres, then talk to the world's leading coaches for those events. This would require a special type of training. Do we want our coaches to go off on that tangent now in preparation for the 2000 Olympic Sprint Freestyle Events, or will the FINA Technical Committee take the initiative and be one jump ahead of the strategists this time round?
Should FINA ban any submarine swimming other than for the first 15 m after start or turn in all four competitive strokes?
Nice if they could do that in the drug offensive too! That is, be ahead of the drug pushers with some innovative technology and legislation! Perhaps identification cards or passports, containing a record of their drug tests both in and out of competition, for swimmers who enter FINA controlled Meets. No passport--no entry!