HOW CHAMPIONS DO IT
Researched, produced, and prepared by Brent S. Rushall,
SUSAN O'NEILL AT 190 m OF HER GOLD MEDAL 200 m RACE AT THE 1999 PAN PACIFIC CHAMPIONSHIPS IN SYDNEY
Each frame is .1 seconds apart. Susan O'Neill's time for this event was 1:58.17; the #1 ranked swim over this distance for 1999.
Frame #1: The left arm begins to extend in the latter part of its propulsive phase. The right arm enters well in front of the shoulder. The head lifts and begins to turn to breathe.
Frame #2: The left arm pushes directly backward. The right arm extends further forward as the right shoulder elevates. The left leg begins to kick to balance the lifted head and the downward-pressing right arm.
Frame #3: The right arm begins to be repositioned so that propulsion can be developed. The head is still elevated in the breathing action. The downward action of the right arm enables the raised head to be supported. The left leg kicks to counterbalance vertical forces from the breathing action and the right arm movement.
Frame #4: The right elbow begins to bend, but rather slowly. This will not position the hand/forearm-propelling surface appropriately at the time when the shoulder is fully extended. The head begins to return. The right leg executes a movement (but not really a kick that assists propulsion) to counterbalance a lateral component in the right arm's action (this is indicated by the hand being turned outward).
Frame #5: Adduction of the right upper arm occurs before the hand/forearm is in a most effective position for propulsion. The head has almost returned. The right leg movement is completed in time with the right hand being oriented backward.
Frame #6: Adduction of the right upper arm continues. Only now does the hand/forearm approach vertical. The recovering left arm might cause the delay in accurate positioning of the propelling surface. That arm would produce some downward force. The right arm's upward angle might serve to counterbalance the recovering arm. The head has returned and looks forward and down. The left leg kicks to counterbalance the lateral force components of the right arm pull. The depth of the knee and its degree of bend attest to the amount of force created in this particular kick. The shoulders are relatively flat, which means the right arm is pulling, but outside the midline (much like a distance swimmer).
Frame #7: Right arm adduction is near completion and still the hand/forearm surface is not vertical. The left arm has entered. The head is oriented forward and slightly downward. The right leg begins its kick.
Frame #8: The swimmer has rolled very quickly onto her left side. The degree of roll is much greater than to the right and that incorporated breathing! The right leg kick contributes to the roll while a reduction in propulsion from the right arm (the elbow has moved back and up with the hand moving about the same distance) also assists the rotation. The left arm continues to extend forward.
Frame #9: The hand is all that remains in the water as the right arm exits. The left wrist bends as the left shoulder is fully extended. The head looks forward and the turbulence created by its large profile can be seen streaming from the face down to the top of the chest. The right leg has completed its kick while the left leg prepares to kick.
Frame #10: The left arm continues to press down rather than being repositioned backward. Any propulsive force created here would be small. The shoulders and hips remain on the side.
Frame #11: The left arm goes even deeper. The position of the recovering right arm can be seen and is almost vertical. The left leg movement is completed. The angle of the left foot suggests that this leg movement does not counterbalance any propulsive force but rather, moves to counterbalance both a lateral movement of the left arm and the recovering right arm, as well as contributing to elevation of the left hip. The head position looks forward and turbulence coming off the face is clearly visible. The swimmer's extended rotation to the left begins to change.
Frame #12: The left arm loses power. Adduction of the upper arm is accompanied by a collapsing elbow. Both the upper arm and elbow move further than the hand, a "dropped elbow" movement. This is a common action resulting from the hand being too deep early in the stroke. Its position has to be adjusted upward so that backward propulsion in the latter stages of adduction and arm extension can be achieved. The right leg begins to move. The head is lifted further as the swimmer looks forward. Slow rotation of the body from the left continues.
Frame #13: The left-arm action continues with the hand-forearm finally in a position of effective propulsion after a very quick elevation (and accompanying loss of force). The right arm enters as the right leg ceases to move. That movement could also contribute to sustaining the elevated head position.
Frames #14 and #15: The positions exhibited in frames #2 and #3 are repeated as the stroking cycle continues.
Susan O'Neill really works at keeping her body streamlined. Her positioning throughout the whole stroke is reasonable but is achieved at considerable energy cost. Leg kicks and movements serve to keep her hips up as well as counterbalancing vertical forces created by her head position, breathing, and arm actions. Changing her head position to deeper in the water with her face profile being parallel to the pool bottom could reduce the energy costs of her legwork.
The swimmer's extended rotation to the left (frames #8-#12) is bothersome as it orients the rotation of the upper left arm to the pool bottom, rather than backward.
The arm actions are far from perfect. The left arm pull is poor. The attainment of "high elbow" positions well in front of the swimmer, and an emphasis on horizontal force developments, are absent. Susan O'Neill's arm movements are not mechanically sound, as the potential of the arms to create very strong effective forces is not exploited.
It is surprising that this swimmer has achieved a #1 ranking in the world! It is a testimony to her substantial capability, but also a commentary on the present status of women's crawl stroke swimming.
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