HOW CHAMPIONS DO IT

Researched, produced, and prepared by Brent S. Rushall, Ph.D., R.Psy.

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RYOSUKE IRIE AT 140 m OF HIS WORLD RECORD 200 m BACKSTROKE SWIM AT THE AUSTRALIAN INSTITUTE OF SPORT, CANBERRA MAY 10, 2009

Ryosuke Irie's time for this event was 1:52.86. Later in 2009, Irie improved on this time while Aaron Piersol established a new world record with a time of 1:51.92.

This analysis features only a frame-by-frame analysis of the swimmer at 140 m (1:18.2 into the swim) in the race. Each frame is .0833 seconds part. The frames captured here do not lend themselves to making a continuous repeating sequence as included in many previous analyses. Moving images can be viewed on YouTube from which the still images were captured (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cslxxJU-A5U).

This performance was more than one second faster than the existing world record at the time. Such an improvement warranted some investigation. While features that could signal advances in the backstroke technique are discussed, other features of the swim, such as the swimmer's not-so-exact streamline, underwater kicking, and handling of the start and turns leave much to be desired. It is suggested that the reader does not assume that Ryosuke Irie has perfect backstroke racing techniques. Only the features that contribute to his high-level performance should be considered.

Although it is not obvious in the analysis frames, Ryosuke Irie is renowned for the stability of his head, which is impressive in the YouTube video. The commentator on the clip states that he trains with a half-filled water bottle balancing on his head. That is difficult at any time but with the amount of shoulder and hip rotation which is a marked feature of his swimming, it would be extremely difficult to produce the level of stability he exhibits without a great amount of practice.

Some of the general features Ryosuke Irie's stroke are as follows:

At the end of the following narrative, each frame is illustrated in detail in a sequential collage.

Notable Features

Ryosuke Irie was the best male backstroker over 200 m in the world at the time of this swim. However, his technique leaves many aspects that if corrected, should lead to faster swimming times. It is somewhat difficult to understand how he could be so good in terms of performance with unsymmetrical actions, a non-streamlined body position, and poor overkicking in his technique. The major strength of his swim is the combined shoulder and hip rotations to both sides. The reduction in frontal resistance and probably the better use of the internal and external rotator muscles of the shoulders that could produce greater and more enduring forces could contribute to better swimming.

It would be very interesting to see what performance changes would result if the critical-fault features of Ryosuke Irie's technique mentioned here were changed.

Ryosuke Irie

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