Among professional open water swimmers, tapping on an opponent's feet and trying to "get inside the head" of one's competitors while drafting is also a tactic that some athletes employ. But drafting without physicality is what the very best do extraordinarily well, from USC Olympian Haley Anderson to Harvard Olympian Alex Meyer.
While some athletes are renowned for leading races from the front, most pros and amateurs prefer to draft strategically and make their moves during the late stages of races. They know that they can effectively conserve their energy through smart drafting, positioning and pacing that allows them to move into the lead or near the leader with 5 to 10 percent of the race left.
While some individuals might think this strategy is unfair, ANY and ALL swimmers have the opportunity to draft in a competitive environment. But for individuals who simply want to enjoy a race and the camaraderie of open water swimming while swimming from Point A to Point B, drafting behind or alongside and then "sprinting" ahead "to win" can be viewed as poor etiquette. Certainly, tapping on the feet and constantly bumping into lead swimmer is commonly seen as an example of competing in poor taste.
As a countermeasure in cases where you are being bothered by someone behind you, you can swim laterally—even for a few meters or strokes—and the problem will often resolve itself. Alternatively—and this has occurred at the professional and competitive levels—the lead swimmer can also simply stop or do some easy backstroke or breaststroke until the trailing swimmer has passed and the roles have been reversed.
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