HOW CHAMPIONS DO IT
Researched, produced, and prepared by Brent S. Rushall, Ph.D., R.Psy.
KRISZTINE EGERSZEGI'S FULL STROKE AT 25 m OF HER 100 m BACKSTROKE GOLD MEDAL SWIM AT THE BARCELONA OLYMPIC GAMES 1992
Each frame is .1 second apart.
- Frame #1: The left arm has entered the water with the wrist slightly flexed and the palm of the hand facing slightly down. The left shoulder is elevated to facilitate a very long stroke. Of particular importance is the finishing movement of the right hand. Instead of following the common descriptive practice of pushing down to the bottom of the pool to complete an "S-shaped" pull, the hand actually sculls inward while starting to move upward. Having the thumb pointing to the surface ("on top") facilitates this sculling movement. The right hand creates an inward force that counter-balances the entry and lateral force component of the left arm entry. It also continues to provide some propulsive force. The right leg has kicked slightly to counter-balance the vertical force component of the left arm entry.
- Frame #2: This picture illustrates several important facets of backstroke. The left leg kicks to assist hip and shoulder rotation which has to occur to facilitate a good pulling movement with the left arm. Meanwhile, the right leg prepares to kick as the whole leg drops down. The left arm commences to bend at the elbow and flexion at the wrist is increased. Already at this short time after entry, the hand is positioned to create propulsive forces backward.
Perhaps the most strinking feature of Krisztina Egerszegi's stroke is the continuity of the propulsive phases. As the right arm completes its propulsive stage the left arm commences its propulsive force production. At these extreme positions the forces created are likely to be small. However, such forces need not be large to maintain a swimmer's momentum. The mimimal to non-existent inertial lag might be the most significant feature of this swimmer's technique. A similar phenomenon was also observed in Janet Evans' crawl stroke.
- Frame #3: The shoulders and hips are rotated to at least 45 degrees while the left leg has completed a vigorous kick. The arm movement has all the characteristics of the "elbow up" position of good crawl stroke swimming. The right upper arm has medially rotated, the elbow has flexed, and the wrist has remained partly flexed. The hand has applied propulsive forces while the forearm is being positioned to add to propulsion. Adduction of the upper arm has commenced. The right leg flexes at the knee to prepare for a vigorous kick.
- Frame #4: The hand/forearm surface of the left arm applies propulsive force almost directly backward (a very large drag force). Adduction of the upper arm continues. To counter-balance the tendency of this movement to roll the left shoulder upward, the right leg kicks vigorously. The hips have already commenced to rotate back from the left side, which is assisted also by a right leg kick. The left leg drops deeper.
- Frame #5: Adduction of the upper arm is nearing its final beneficial stage. The shoulders are still rotated to support adduction while maintaining a good position for the arm/forearm surface to continue exerting a large propulsive drag force backward. The hips have rotated and are almost level.
- Frame #6: Adduction is completed and the left arm begins to extend at the elbow. This could produce a downward force but to maintain propulsive efficiency, the hips continue to roll and the shoulders roll so that the extending arm can continue to push backward rather than down. The right leg is "sinking" to prepare for another kick.
- Frame #7: The right arm has entered with the hand already positioned to create a backward propulsive force (the wrist is flexed and partially adducted). The left arm has completed its inward scull with a very vigorous movement (the swirl of bubbles obscures the exact position). The head is lowered to a deeper position than that held for the left-arm pull.
- Frame #8: The right leg kick rotates the hips and shoulders to the right in a manner similar to that which occurred on the left. The left arm action is completed and the hand is extracted with the thumb leading. The elevated right shoulder is plainly visible and flexion at the elbow commences.
- Frame #9. The left leg trails high "trimming" the hips and assisting their continued rotation. The upper arm is not medially rotated to the same extent as occurred with the left arm. This will result in a shorter length of force application and a deeper pull when compared to the left arm movement. Adduction has begun and propulsive force is created by the arm/forearm surface. The head starts to rise.
- Frame #10: Adduction of the upper right arm is clearly demonstrated in this picture. The hand/forearm propulsive surface is virtually the same as in frame #10. The right leg drops down which causes the right hip and shoulder to continue to rotate to the right. The head continues to rise.
- Frame #11: The contribution of adduction of the upper arm is almost completed. The right elbow begins to extend. The left leg kicks to stop both right hip and shoulder rotation and to initiate rotation back to the left.
- Frame #12: Extension of the right elbow continues and the arm/forearm commences an inward sculling movement. The hips and shoulders are flat as the left arm is very close to entering the water.
- Frame #13: This picture signals the completion of the stroke cycle and is very similar to that of frame #1. The left arm enters as the right arm continues to scull inward (note the thumb being pointed toward the surface) however, the sculling action is not as vigorous or pronounced as that displayed by the left arm. The depth of the right arm scull is more than that exhibited with the left arm and may be associated with the deeper pull. The left leg has dropped down and bends at the knee to prepare to kick.
- Frame #14: The stroking cycle continues.
A striking feature of Krisztina Egerszegi's arm actions is their similarity to the mechanics of the crawl stroke actions of the top male swimmers shown in other exhibits. Her left-arm's re-positioning immediately after entry to create the earliest propulsive force possible (medial rotation of the upper arm, elbow and wrist flexion) from the longest entry position possible (elevated shoulder) is followed by adduction of the upper arm employing both the internal and external rotators of the shoulder. The propulsive surface is the arm/forearm combination. However, this action is not demonstrated with her right arm.
The latter part of the pull is where crawl and backstroke movements differ. The hand/forearm perform an inward sculling movement which is very different to the commonly coached "downward-push" that is supposed to produce the latter part of an S-shaped pull.
The roll of the shoulders and hips cancels out major vertical components in the arm movement patterns, thus facilitating a largely direct application of force backward.
The hip and shoulder rolls are assisted by kicks and by dropping the leg down on the turn-side. The roll of the body is continuous except for the change of direction stoppages on either side.
It is hard to explain the changing head position.
Krisztina Egerszegi's body position is quite level for the whole stroke even though the head appears to move vertically. As with all top swimmers who perform cyclic alternating strokes, the underwater movement patterns are different for each arm.
Cappaert, J. M., & Rushall, B. S. (1994). Biomechanical analyses of champion swimmers. Spring Valley, CA: Sports Science Associates.
Return to Table of Contents for this section.