On Friday, a celebrated high school swimmer won a 100-meter freestyle race, representing her school, Anchorage's Dimond High School. Then, she was swiftly disqualified. According to one referee, her school-issued uniform, which was identical to the rest of the swimmers on her team, was in violation over a "suit wedgie."
Some, however, believe that racism and sexism played a part in the controversial decision.
The top-ranked 17-year-old swimmer, who is considered to be one of the fastest swimmers in Alaska and is expected to compete at the collegiate level in the future, was the only athlete disqualified at the meet.
“All of these girls are all wearing suits that are cut the same way,” Lauren Langford, a swim coach at another high school in the area, West High School, told the Washington Post. “And the only girl who gets disqualified is a mixed-race girl with rounder, curvier features.”
Annette Rohde, an official at the meet, told the Anchorage Daily News that the female referee stated the minor's swimsuit was "so far up I could see butt cheek touching butt cheek."
Rohde said the statement shocked her so much that she "froze in disbelief," eventually warning the referee that such a comment would "blow up."
A statement, released on Monday by the Anchorage School District, says that the disqualification is under investigation.
“The disqualification appears to stem from a difference of opinion in the interpretation of the rules governing high school swim uniforms,” the statement read in part. “We intend to gather all the facts surrounding the disqualification so we can accurately address the matter with officials and take appropriate action to ensure fair, equitable competition and consistent application of the rules for this athlete and her peers.”
Langford informed The Post that the teenager was accused of hiking her suit up deliberately, but as any swimmer would know, these suits often ride up on their own accord.
“We have a term for it — it’s called a suit wedgie,” Langford said. “And wedgies happen. It’s uncomfortable. No one’s going to walk around that way intentionally.”
"What has been carried out on pool decks in Alaska in the last year is nothing short of racism, sexism, body shaming, and child abuse,” Langford, who had coached both the teenager and her sisters when they were young, wrote in a blog post published on Medium after Friday's meet.
The coach added that the girls were targeted "not for the way they wear their suits but for the way those suits fit their curvier, fuller figured bodies."
"Some will argue this has nothing to do with race, but when the same officials targeting these girls have been heard saying that so-and-so white girl also shows too much skin but has never been disqualified for a similar violation the racial facet of this issue cannot be ignored," Langford wrote.
She told The Washington Post: “If the suit was a problem, they all should have been disqualified. But they weren’t.”
Langford added that this is not the first time the teenager had been targeted because of her curvy figure. Last year, a parent took a photo of the teen from the backside and shared it with other parents to show that the team's swimsuits were inappropriate. Dimond High School's assistant principal informed the parent who took the photo that it "was not permissible for him to take pictures of others' children and that he should stop immediately,” at the time.
According to the district’s statement, “deliberate efforts over the last year” were made “to ensure athletes' uniforms meet the regulations" of the National Federation of State High School Associations, which presides over high school athletics in Alaska. The swimsuit, which the teenager and her teammates were wearing, was purchased and issued this year and is in alignment with the federation's guidelines, which state girls' swimsuits must "cover the buttocks and breasts."
While there are also guidelines for men's swimwear, Langford does not believe any male student, whose swimsuits do not meet the guidelines, has been disciplined or disqualified.
On Friday, Langford said the typically "tough as nails" teenager was left teary by the judge's decision.
“The fact that she’s been told she’s intentionally trying to draw this sexual attention has really crushed her,” Langford said.
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