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Why Was Andrew Gemmell Initially Disqualified?

Post-race bedlam with Andrew Gemmell congratulating Ferry Weertman with Ous Mellouli and Brendan Casey meeting the race officials

Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California.

The crazy situation that started to unravel at the final turn buoy at the men’s 10 km USA Swimming National Open Water Swimming Championships had its roots during the pre-race technical meeting.

During the technical meeting, head referee Mark McCaw stated that the rules of the competition are based on USA Swimming and FINA rules.

FINA rule OWS 7.2.2 states that “It is mandatory for all swimmers to wear a microchip transponder on each wrist throughout the race. If a swimmer loses a transponder the Race Judge or other authorised Official, will immediately inform the Referee who will instruct the responsible Official on the water to issue a replacement transponder. Any swimmer who finishes the race without a transponder will be disqualified.”

Under this scenario, Andrew Gemmell lost his transponder during the race and finished with only one chip on one wrist. The race officials initially ruled him in violation of FINA OWS 7.2.2. This caused some confusion at the end of the race and led to a protest of the ruling.

The protest of the ruling was upheld and Gemmell’s victory was reinstated because the USA Swimming regulations did not specifically include a ruling like FINA OWS 7.2.2. Since the competition was an official USA Swimming national championship, the USA Swimming rules prevailed and Gemmell was judged the winner (see official results below).

So what is the background of FINA OWS 7.2.2?

Originally when transponders started to be utilized at open water swimming competitions, some athletes did not like the transponders on their wrists and they purposefully discarded the transponders during the races. This not only causes race officials to have to purchase additional transponders, but it also caused problems with the timing system.

So FINA OWS 7.2.2 was added to the FINA rule book. With its influence over the global governing bodies, FINA’s rules became the de facto regulations over the sport. But there remained a slight discrepancy between the FINA rulebook and the USA Swimming rulebook when it comes to transponders.

American Olympic open water coach John Dussliere observed, “Andrew had the presence of mind to hit the finish pad purposefully with his hand that had the transponder on.”

Reminiscent of his silver medal performance at the 2009 FINA World Championships in Rome when he overcame over 50 competitors during the second half of the race and his previous two national 10 km championship swims, Gemmell came through at the end by virtue of his stamina, speed, racing savvy and strategic positioning.

2016 USA Swimming National Open Water Swimming Championships 10 km Top 10 results:

1 Andrew Gemmell (USA) 1:53:53.79
2 Ferry Weertman (Netherland) 1:53:55.11
3 Oussama Mellouli (Tunisia) 1:53:55.56
4 Alex Meyer (USA) 1:53:57.40
5 Marc Antoine (France) 1:53:58.93
6 Jarrod Poort (Australia) 1:54:05.33
7 Brendan Casey (USA) 1:54:07.02
8 Richard Weinberger (Canada) 1:54:07.24
9 Sean Ryan (USA) 1:54:12.25
10 Yasunari Hirai (Japan) 1:54:19.73

Copyright © 2016 by World Open Water Swimming Association

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