A high school swimmer in Alaska was denied a victory Friday because of a "uniform violation," sparking accusations of discrimination and body shaming.
The incident took place at Dimond High School in Anchorage, after a 100-meter freestyle race. Breckynn Willis, a 17-year-old state champion swimmer, won the race, but was immediately disqualified by referees when she emerged from the water, the Washington Post reported.
An official overseeing the meet said he disqualified Willis because he could see "butt cheek touching butt cheek." By rule, the National Federation of High Schools requires all swimmers wearing a one-piece suit to "cover their buttocks."
The referee's ruling, which the school district is now investigating, sparked a backlash from some in the community, including Lauren Langford, who coaches swimming at a nearby high school.
In a Medium post that has since gone viral, Langford called the disqualification "inexcusable," saying she believes racism, sexism and body shaming played a role.
"All of these girls are all wearing suits that are cut the same way," Langford said in her post. "And the only girl who gets disqualified is a mixed-race girl with rounder, curvier features."
Langford notes that Willis was wearing the swimsuit assigned by her team and that none of the other girls wearing the same outfit were cited for violations.
"It comes down in my opinion to the race thing," Langford told the Anchorage Daily News. "It was so targeted. It was so intentional and so individual. She’s one of three girls on [her team] who look like her."
Annette Rohde, who was working as an official during the meet, echoed some of Langford's outrage. She told the Anchorage Daily News that she froze in disbelief when she heard her colleague's justification for the ruling.
"This is going to blow up," she said she warned the official who made the call.
Langford, who coached the Willis and her sisters when they were younger, said decisions like these have an effect that goes beyond one swim meet.
"In a world where young girls are told at every turn that the skin they’re in is not good enough for a thousand reasons, the last thing we need to do in youth athletics is add to that unhealthy dialogue," her post read.
Both Langford and Rohde told the Anchorage Daily News that they've never seen a girl intentionally alter her swimwear to make it more revealing, emphasizing that what occurred was simply a common accident.
"We have a term for it — it’s called a suit wedgie, and if you’ve ever been a swimmer, you've had one," Langford told the Anchorage Daily News.