Take Home Points:
- The new Omega backstroke starting platforms will likely benefit swimmers by at least 0.2 s.
- The new Omega backstroke starting platforms may provide more safety than the traditional start
- Omega backstroke starting platforms are positively received by Olympic swimmers.
Jeff Cummings of Swimming World Magazine, wrote a short piece on this device in June (EXCLUSIVE VIDEO: TESTING NEW BACKSTROKE PLATFORM AT USA SWIMMING NATIONALS) and notes he doesn't "want to go back to doing a backstroke start without it again (Cummings 2013)". Now, before praise is given, an investigation and consideration of the ramifications of these platforms is necessary to prevent potential flip-flopping and contradiction like the Fastskin suits. This article can not provide all the pros and cons with this equipment, as repeated testing and trials are necessary for that, which have not been done. This is what occurred with the Fastskin suits, a new product was brought to market, approved by the governing bodies, and eventually banned due to poor foresight. Once again, this foresight is impossible without proper testing.
For example, the omega track starts (OSB 11) were approved by FINA and now we know the OSB11 improves starts by ~0.2 seconds (a 4% improvement) (Biel 2010; Honda 2010). This significant improvement is massive in a 50 - m freestyle race, potentially skewing the record books, yet few discuss this advantage like the Fastskin suits. Now, it is obvious the Fastskin suit is far different than either of these new starting platforms. However, it is clear these technological advancements will increase swimmers times. These time improvements must be taken into consideration, as many swimmers will go best times and the sport will undergo further progression.
Now, there are benefits which must also be considered, the first being safety. Personally, I've never heard of anyone getting hurt during a backstroke start, but many swimmers do slip. This slippage has the potential of causing hyperextended knees and/or hip subluxations, both likely rare occurrences. Another benefit is the comfort of the swimmers. Mike Unger of USA Swimming noted Olympians such as Ryan Lochte and Matt Grevers "loved the blocks", allowing them to fully concentrate on the start (Unger 2013).
Further testing should be performed on new swimming technologies should be performed before implementation. This testing can help prevent "flip-flopping" of rules, regulations, and records. At this time, these starting platforms appear to benefit the sport, but expect faster times and a few more unknowns to unravel at major competitions.
- Biel K, Fischer S, Kibele A. Kinematic analysis of take-off performance in elite swimmers: New OSB11 versus traditional starting block. A paper presented at the XIth International Symposium for Biomechanics and Medicine in Swimming. 2010 Jun; 16–19, 2010.
- Honda KE, Sinclair PJ, Mason, BR, Pease, DL. A biomechanical comparison of elite swimmers' start performance using the traditional track start and the new kick start. A paper presented at the XIth International Symposium for Biomechanics and Medicine in Swimming. 2010 Jun; 16–19, 2010.
- Unger, M. Personal Communication. August 2013.
By Dr. G. John Mullen received his Doctorate in Physical Therapy from the University of Southern California and a Bachelor of Science of Health from Purdue University where he swam collegiately. He is the owner of COR, Strength Coach Consultant, Creator of the Swimmer's Shoulder System, and chief editor of the Swimming Science Research Review.