Teen girl's swimsuit malfunction storm ‘blows up’


A 17-year-old swimming talent has reportedly been left devastated by an instant disqualification from her high school's weekend swim meet.

The controversial disqualification surrounding the state champion swimmer's exposed "intergluteal cleft" has rocked the Alaskan swimming community and is attracting national media attention in the United States.

Teen swimmer Breckynn Willis' disqualification after winning the 100m freestyle event at her Dimond High School pool in Southern Alaska is now the subject of a school board investigation in a storm that has already resulted in accusations of sexism and racism.

Willis was disqualified and denied her victory after one pool official judged she had showed too much of her buttocks during the swim when the swimsuit malfunctioned in the middle of the race.

According to The Anchorage Daily News, another poolside official who witnessed the incident claims to have been told by the judge now under investigation that he was forced to disqualify Willis because she could "see butt cheek touching butt cheek".

The ruling, which was upheld despite an official poolside protest from the school and Willis' family, is being reviewed by the Anchorage school district following public accusations that Willis was unfairly singled out.

Performance coach DeWayne Ingram with sisters Breckynn Willis and Dreamer Kowatch
Performance coach DeWayne Ingram with sisters Breckynn Willis and Dreamer Kowatch

"If we find that this was an error in judgment by an official, we are going to definitely ensure that there are steps in place so that it doesn't happen again," Kersten Johnson-Struempler, senior director of secondary education for the Anchorage school district said in a statement earlier this week.

Willis' family have reportedly since demanded the official be removed from ever overseeing one of her daughter's races. They also want the victory to be re-instated.

The shaken family are far from alone in demanding action with commentators and American swim officials issuing scathing public takedowns of the decision to disqualify Willis.

Lauren Langford, a high school swim coach for a nearby Alaskan school, told The Washington Post Willis was unfairly singled out because of her athletic, curvy figure and her mixed-race appearance.

"All of these girls are all wearing suits that are cut the same way," Langford said.

"And the only girl who gets disqualified is a mixed-race girl with rounder, curvier features."

Langford said it is "ridiculous" for the official to have suggested that the swimmer deliberately raised her swimsuit to reveal more of her backside.

She also said it is simply commonplace for swimmers to have to deal with malfunctioning suits that ride up.

"We have a term for it - it's called a suit wedgie," she said. "And wedgies happen. It's uncomfortable. No one's going to walk around that way intentionally."


Anchorage’s Dimond High School in Alaska swimming pool.
Anchorage’s Dimond High School in Alaska swimming pool.

She said it was "unhealthy" that Willis was penalised as a 17-year-old because some people didn't like the look of her swimsuit.

The veteran coach also wrote in a blog post that she is aware of conversations had by some of the parents at the pool about a need for some girls to change their swimsuits in order to stop their young sons looking at the female swimmers.

"The issue has come so far unravelled that parents in opposition of these girls and their swimwear have been heard saying that for the sake of their sons, the mother of these young ladies should cover up her daughters," Langford wrote.

"Talk about thrusting modern women back into an era in which men were never held accountable for their behaviour."

It has since been confirmed by the school district that Willis was wearing an approved Dimond High School official swimsuit - the same one all her teammates wore.

She had also worn it in two previous races earlier in the meet and was not sanctioned in any way.

She also returned to the pool in the same swimsuit after her disqualification to swim in a team relay and received no penalty.

Willis' mother Meagan Kowatch has also told NBC-affiliated news channel KTUU in Alaska that the judge responsible for her daughter's disqualification took over as the meet's head official half-way through the program and that one of her first decisions in charge was to disqualify Willis.

Kowatch also said the same judge also criticised her other daughter and Breckynn's younger sister Dreamer for also revealing too much of her buttocks at an earlier swim meet.

The crackdown on swimming attire comes after the National Federation of State High School Associations notified swim coaches across the country in August about a rule change that allowed officials to disqualify athletes for suits that do not meet the official guidelines which call for "full coverage of the buttocks".

Langford said she is also aware that the scandal and national attention it has received has crushed Willis.

Langford said Willis was "heartbroken" after the event on Friday night to think people believed she deliberately hiked up the sides of her swimsuit.

"The fact that she's been told she's intentionally trying to draw this sexual attention has really crushed her," Langford said.

There is no timeline for the Anchorage School District's investigation to be handed down.

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