A HISTORY OF CRAWL STROKE TECHNIQUES TO THE 1960s: AN AUSTRALIAN PERSPECTIVE: SECTION III
The improvement in the times of winners at Olympic Games represent to some extent the results of experiments in technique and serve as land-marks in the progress of swimming. We shall base our story about changing ideas of technique on these results.
For the first Modern Olympic Games in Athens (1896) the winners in all the swimming events used the single-arm-over side-stroke, but by the Paris Games in 1900 the double-over-arm was established as the fastest stroke for sprint events. Fred Lane (Australia) won the 200 m sprint (there was no 100 m) in the River Seine. He swam with his head held high, and used one narrow scissors-kick to each revolution of the arms. England's John Jarvis side-stroked, with one arm recovering over the water, to win both the 1,000 m and 4,000 m freestyle events.
Lane once told me of the leg action of Zoltan de Halmay (Hungary), who swam second to him in the 1900 Games. With his legs trailing behind him and using a double over-arm stroke, de Halmay was virtually swimming the crawl -- at that time being developed in Australia. De Halmay won the 100 yards Olympic event at St. Louis in 1904, and finished his career by swimming a close second to Daniels four years later.
In the early years of the century, the principle of the crawl-stroke spread from Australia to America. At San Francisco, Syd Cavill was teaching the crawl-stroke at The Olympic Club, where some Americans were using it successfully.
On the East Coast of America, Louis de B. Handley was experimenting. He gave this account:
"In 1903 I received from Australia newspaper clippings describing the Australian crawl in which the left leg beat was synchronized with the right arm stroke. I took the clippings to the New York Athletic Club's pool, and with other club mates tried unsuccessfully to get the hang of it. A few days later Gus Sundstrum, the pool manager, gave an exhibition of what he called the 'swordfish Glide," shooting down the pool with arms outstretched in front of his head, face submerged, legs almost straight and feet moving in scissoring action under the surface.
NYAC. swimmers, thinking the leg drive was identical with the Australian crawl adopted it, and in 1904 two members, Jack Lawrence and Van Cleaf, covered 50 yards in 26 seconds, lowering the American record."
The Americans took the Australian crawl and experimented with it. They developed an independent and continuous leg beat and using this the tall, 205 lb. Charles Daniels soon became the first great swimmer from the United States of America.
Daniels won the 440 yards event (it was yards not meters) at the St. Louis Games in 1904. In 1907 Daniels wrote a book, Speed Swimming, and in advance of his time he came close to modern ideas on the crawl. Comparing the Australian stroke with the American he wrote:
"In America with few exceptions the arms and legs are worked independently and the thrash has a narrower scope, the legs being opened less.
In the American crawl the continuous action of the legs keeps the body constantly in motion.
The relative timing of the arms and legs in the American crawl can best be determined by the individual or his coach, one with strong arms and weak legs can adopt a rapid arm motion and a slow kick, one with strong legs can do the opposite.
This is one of the stroke's best features for it can be fitted to each person. Some of our best men use the arms almost entirely, and one at least, Mr. H. J. Handy of Chicago, lets his legs trail behind him. He tried the kick but found he could not swim without tiring when using it, so he abandoned it. Others can go almost as fast with legs alone as when using the arms and legs."
Daniels, with his independent but fairly rigid leg action, won the 100 m Olympic event in 1908, and in 1910 made a new world record for the 100 m by swimming 62.8 seconds. This was in a 25 m course, in which world records were allowed until 1956.
Although the crawl was established as the fastest stroke for short races (100 m and less), the best distance swimmers still used the trudgen style.
One of the first great trudgen swimmers, whose performances provided "proof" to many that the crawl-stroke was only good for sprints, was the Australian, Bernard Bede ("Barney") Kieren, who burst into prominence in 1904 virtually forcing Dick Cavill into retirement. Within a year he had captured every world record from 220 yards to the mile. Kieren's remarkable record for the mile of 23 minutes 16.s seconds mace in the 50-yard course of Sydney-s Lavender Bay Baths was unbeaten for 16 years until in 1921 Olympic winner Norman Ross of USA recorded 22 minutes 58.4 seconds in the 33-yard course at the Coogee Aquarium Baths in Sydney.
Kieren's phenomenal swims were made between January 1904 and December 1905. Then following a visit to England, where he proved master of the great Dave Billington, Kieren died after an appendix operation in Brisbane, where he was competing in the Australian Championships. He was 19.
Although he swam the double-over-arm (so-called trudgen stroke) Barney Kieren's best times included 5 minutes 19 seconds for the 440 yards and 11 minutes 11.6 seconds for the 880 yards. Not until 15 years later, in the early 1920s, did swimmers anywhere in the world approach Kieren's times, but his name appears only once on the list of world records (for the 500 yards swum in England in 1904). The International Swimming Federation (FINA) which was constituted in 1908, in retrospect recognized only one of Kieren's records, although there is little doubt of their authenticity. Many of his times had been established from the scratch mark in handicap races.
Another great trudgen swimmer was Harry Taylor of Great Britain, who won both the 400 m and the 1,500 m Olympic events in 1908. In his stroke he drew both knees well up before sweeping the legs together, once for every arm cycle.
Australian Frank Beaurepaire, to become later Sir Frank and Lord Mayor of Melbourne, swam the trudgen in a competitive career extending from 1906 to 1928. He had the distinction of being placed in Olympic finals from 1908 to 1924. In 1910 he toured Europe as teacher and competitor and was undefeated. At various times he held 14 world records.
Early in his career Beaurepaire swam with a single, wide scissors-kick, but when he returned from overseas in 1910 he had introduced the vertical crawl thrash between the wide scissors-kicks. His lower leg bent at the knee, which he drew up before making the trudgen sweep. In this respect his leg action differed from the trudgen-crawl kick, which had evolved in America parallel with the independent leg action of Daniels.
Handley wrote (Encyclopaedia Britannica - 1951) of American swimmers' development of the trudgen-crawl:
"In attempting to imitate the Australian crawl action they unwittingly developed a faster leg stroke, executing four scissoring kicks per stroke. The new leg drive was combined by the Americans with the double over-arm of the trudgen and the resulting stroke was christened the four-beat crawl to distinguish it from the two-beat Australian crawl.
Meanwhile experiments had led to the belief that the four-beat leg thrash was effective when composed of one comparatively wide and three very narrow scissoring motions. This style, termed the four-beat trudgen-crawl or four-beat single-rhythm crawl became the accepted racing medium."
In 1911 the Australian crawl with its heavy two-beat kick, put to the test. Had Healy sufficiently perfected the stroke for distance races to win the N.S.W. three-quarter-mile Championship? Would he defeat Frank Beaurepaire, the greatest all-round swimmer of that time, and place the seal of practicability on the crawl stroke for distance races?
The memorable race drew the biggest crowd on record to the Sydney Domain Baths and brought to light the hitherto unknown Bill Longworth. Young Longworth caused a sensation when he led all the way to win by 20 yards from the two famous swimmers Healy and Beaurepaire. Longworth used a perfect two-beat Australian crawl. The two-beat crawl-stroke had triumphed in Australia! In 1912 Longworth went on to win every Australian championship from 100 yards to the mile, a feat to date only equaled by Dick Cavill (1903), John Marshall (1949), and John Konrads (1959). In 1963 Robert Windle missed out when defeated by a fingertip by David Dickson in the 110 yards.
Healy had improved the crawl-stroke by demonstrating that regular breathing was possible. Now Longworth had won with it from a good field in a long-distance race. It seemed then that the Australian crawl was the stroke for the future. In 1911 Cecil Healy wrote:
"The first difficulty to be conquered in the crawl was that of getting the breath without interfering with the rate of progress. I was the first to overcome the problem of breathing regularly. Even today, such as Daniels, de Halmay and Hardwick breathe only now and again. Hitherto I swam with the muscles more or less set and hard, but watching Beaurepaire's trudgen I noticed his move meets were extraordinarily free and easy. I commenced to practice with my muscles relaxed."
Healy had improved the crawl-stroke, although he still insisted on the two-beat leg kick.
Two Australian girls, Mina Wylie and Fanny Durack, both using the two-beat Australian crawl, led the world in 1912 at the Stockholm Olympics, when they finished first and second in the first women's event held at the Olympics -- the 100 m freestyle.
In the season 1910-11 Mina Wylie had performed the unparalleled feat of winning every N.S.W. and Australian Women's Championship at freestyle, breaststroke and backstroke. Fanny Durack established 11 world records between 1912 and 1918.
Cecil Healy swam second to the new sprint sensation, Duke Kahanamoku of Hawaii, in the Olympic 100 m in 1912, but once again in this Olympic Games the crawl-stroke was not used successfully by competitors in distance events.
Using the trudgen-crawl with a slight drawing-up of one knee, George Hodgson of Canada took the 400 m and 1,500 m Olympic titles in then remarkable times which stood for 12 years as Olympic records. Trudgen-crawlers, Hatfield of England and Hardwick of Australia, were second and third.
Duke Kahanamoku's win in the 100 m at Stockholm with 1 minute 3.4 seconds set the experts thinking. His leg action was the forerunner of the modern flutter kick, faster and more flexible in its action than the "independent" kick used by Daniels.
Kahanamoku swam very high, with his shoulders clear of the water. His heels were mainly under the surface and his kick made very little splash. Healy described the kick as being:
". . . like a propeller in action, the water boils and bubbles around the feet. The leg action is made from the hips. He does not bend the knees like we do."
Kahanamoku advocated and used a pull well under the center of the body with his arms bent.
Two problems were bothering the Australian swimmers and coaches after the Olympic Games of 1912. One was whether the crawl-stroke was the best stroke to use for long distances, and the other was whether the Australian two-beat stroke was as efficient as the "independent" leg action being used in America. Healy, the great exponent and protagonist of the two-beat had this to say:
"One of the results of our visit to Stockholm has been to create a craze here for dispensing with the established regulated movement of the right arm and leg simultaneously, in favor of the independent action of Kahanamoku and McGillivray. Before our departure we would advise a youth to rid himself of the habit but now Longworth is practicing the independent leg action crawl."
The visit of Duke Kahanamoku to Australia in the 1914-15 season brought things to a head. In his first swim in Australia over the straight 100-yard course at the Sydney Domain, the tall well-tapered Hawaiian, using his spectacular crawl with an independent kick, swam a world record of 53.6 seconds.
However, "the Duke" was beaten a few days later in the N.S.W. 440-yard Championship by trudgen-crawl swimmer Tommy Adrian of Manly, and Adrian's time of 5 minutes 38 seconds was not fast even for those days.
Healy stuck to his guns when he wrote in 1915:
"I am still prepared to maintain that a good trudgen swimmer will always be able to demonstrate his superiority over a crawler beyond 200 m in fresh water. My prominence in swimming dates back from the time I commenced to exploit the crawl. I won my first and last championship with it. However, if I had devoted myself to the trudgen I would have made corresponding improvement. The Americans in small tanks (short pools) by means of a non-ceasing variety of kicks have put up good times, but I strongly recommend youths to emulate Barney Kieren or Frank Beaurepaire."
However, the future trend of events was to prove that Bill Longworth's judgment on this matter was better than Healy's. It will always stand to the credit of Longworth's vision that he wrote at the time:
"I am certain from my own knowledge of swimming that the crawl-stroke is the greater stroke over any distance even though it is only in its babyhood."
Beaurepaire agreed with Healy and wrote an article on the crawl-stroke in 1915, coming out against the crawl being used for distance races. However, it is interesting to note that he stressed an important principle to be revived 50 years later when he maintained that the "legs must dance attendant on the arms."
"Very little attention should be given to the legs in the crawl. In the Hungarian crawl very little attention is paid to leg actions save that they wriggle about. Care must be taken at all times not to make the arm actions secondary to the legs. The Americans use a different principle from the Australians. Their's is an independent and irregular action of the legs known as the American or Independent crawl. This will certainly never be used above the sprint distances, and I fancy it will eventually be forsaken for the equally fast and more versatile Australian two-beat crawl."
L. de B. Handley records that the Americans had thought along similar lines. Most coaches clung for a time to teaching the slow-tempo trudgen-crawl kick, believing, according to Handley, that "the swift leg thrash would prove entirely too laborious for distances longer than 100 yards."
Handley went on to tell in the Encyclopedia Britannica how the swimming experimenters got to work:
"Late in 1917 two young champions of the New York Women's Swimming Association, Miss Charlott Boyle and Miss Clare Gilligan, determined to give the six-beat crawl a trial and by the summer of 1918 broke records with it over the longer regulation courses, 880 yards and a mile. So convincing was this demonstration that it caused a sudden change in mind among coaches and competitors. The six-beat immediately won favor in the United States. Then another of its champions, Miss Ethel McGary, successfully exploited in turn the eight-beat and ten-beat varieties of the crawl, achieving title and record honors."
Using an eight-beat crawl-stroke all the way, Miss Gertrude Ederle of the USA swam the English Channel in 14 hours 34 minutes, breaking by nearly two hours the men's record for the course. This was in 1926.
In 1920, after the first world war which brought about the eight-year gap between Olympics, Kahanamoku, then 30 years old, regained his 100 m title and Norman Ross of the USA won both the 400 m and the 1,500 m titles. Ross, 6 feet 2 inches tall and weighing 203 lb., used a stroke here described in detail by Les Duff, manager of the Australian swimming team. Duff wrote this when he returned in 1920 from the Antwerp Games:
"The Ross stroke is new to the world. The main difference is the kick. The Australian crawl is a thrash from the knee, synchronous with the opposite arm. The American crawl kick is a flutter, the leg work being quite independent of the arm action. Norman Ross has neither a flutter nor a thrash, but a series of modified scissors-kicks, the legs working from the hips. There are two minor kicks delivered vertically when the body is on the face, and one major kick delivered horizontally when he rolls on the right side for a breath. Ross has a long reach and a steady pull, the arm action being slow enough to enable the two minor and one major scissors-kicks."
Ross was the first Olympic winner at the 400 m not to bend one of his knees in the so-called trudgen action. Although Ross did not use an "independent" crawl kick with his long loping style, he may be said to be the first swimmer at Olympics to use the crawl-type stroke as distinct from the bent-knee trudgen and meet with success at distances beyond 100 m.
During October 1920, the year of Norman Ross's Olympic triumph, a tall, 15-year-old boy came under the notice of coach William Bachrach at the Illinois Athletic Club, Chicago. He was John Weissmuller, destined to pioneer new techniques which would soon make him the greatest swimmer of his time. He was to give speed swimming the greatest impetus since the Cavills first experimented with the crawl-stroke, 20 years before.
The Weissmuller crawl technique has had a tremendous influence on competitive swimming. It has in fact served as a model up to the present day.
During a swimming career extending from 1920 until he retired at the end of 1928, John Weissmuller broke every world freestyle record from 100 yards to 880 yards. In the days before the fast "tumble turn" his best 100-yards time of 51 seconds, established in 1927, stood for 16 years (until Alan Ford swam 50.6 seconds in 1943). Weissmuller's world record for the 880 yards made in the 110-yard course of the Honolulu Natatorium was 10 minutes 22.2 seconds.
In his book, Swimming the American Crawl, written in 1930 in collaboration with a journalist Clarence Bush, Weissmuller and his coach Bachrach set out in detail their theory of Weissmuller's stroke which he called the "American Crawl."
In essence, here are the principles of that stroke.
Weissmuller's body position was high. He says:
"My whole torso rides high on the surface of the water. Only my hips and legs are submerged. This position is achieved by arching the back up and getting tremendous power with the leg drive."
Weissmuller developed what became known as the flutter kick, with loose legs, turned-in pigeon toes and flexible ankle joints. The leg movement was from the hips, with slightly bending knees. It was called a "whiplash" action by Bachrach. The maximum depth of the kick from the heel of one foot to the toe of the other was about 18 inches.
It is very significant that, although Weissmuller developed a very effective leg drive, Bachrach believed that the kick should be subordinated to the arm action. Weissmuller made no effort after his initial learning period to kick a regular six-beat. This is what he said about timing the kick:
"When anybody tries to involve coach Bachrach in an argument as to how many leg beats should be taken with each revolution of the arms, he laughs and waves the whole argument aside. He taught me that as the arms were the main propelling force in the crawl-stroke the legs must be subordinated. There is power in the leg beat so that it is probably in this department that I gain my margin of superiority over my rivals, but this power is chiefly to maintain a high body position and it is secondary, and attention must not be concentrated on it at the expense of the arm action."
Weissmuller says he made the discovery in Honolulu that he could swim better at the 880 yards by adopting a two-beat flutter-kick action. As we shall see later, the principle of reducing the leg kicks for distances has been tried successfully by distance swimmers for more than 30 years, culminating in the action of Murray Rose.
Weissmuller endeavored to keep his shoulders flat on the water so that there was very little shoulder roll in his stroke.
His arm pull was made from a point straight in front of the shoulder with his elbow bent throughout at about 45 degrees from the straight position. He concentrated on making what he called a backward pull, that is, there was very little shoulder lean into the stroke. Weissmuller made a feature of the "push" at the end of the stroke and his hands came out of the water fairly wide at the thighs.
His arm recovery was made with a loose round-arm swing with a moderately high elbow and, as in the pull, the forearm was bent at approximately 45 degrees from the straight-arm position.
Weissmuller described the timing of the stroke thus: "The instant before the right arm loosens hold upon leverage at the hips, my left arm starts down." In other words the speed of the arm recovery was only very slightly faster than the catch so that there was practically no "overtaking" arm action.
Unlike Kahanamoku, who snatched a breath every four strokes, Weissmuller breathed regularly and fully with each revolution of his arms. He advocated inhaling through the mouth and exhaling gradually through the nose whilst the head was turned toward the front.
At the Paris Olympics in 1924, Weissmuller swam the 100 m in 59 seconds, comfortably defeating Duke Kahanamoku by 2.4 seconds -- the easiest win ever in an Olympic sprint. Sam Kahanamoku was 0.4 seconds behind his brother in third place.
At those games, Weissmuller swam his (by then famous) crawl-stroke in the 400 m and won in 5 minutes 4.2 seconds, a world and Olympic record. The Swede, Arne Borg with 5 minutes 5.6 seconds and Australian Andrew "Boy" Charlton 5 minutes 6.6 seconds, were close behind.
John Weissmuller's feat in winning both the 100 m and 400 m was the first and last time this double has been performed at the Olympic Games.
At Paris Americans took all the places in the women's 100 m and the 400 m freestyle. Ethel Lackie (1 minute 12.4 seconds), who was coached by Bachrach and swam very much like Weissmuller, won the sprint and Martha Norelius won the 400 m in 6 minutes 2.2 seconds. All the American girls were six- or eight-beat crawl-strokers and were much influenced by the Weissmuller technique.
Let us now examine the styles of other great swimmers of the Weissmuller era.
In the 1,500 m Olympic race in 1924, Andrew Charlton of Australia broke the world and Olympic record when he won by nearly a lap, defeating the Swede, Arne Borg (20 minutes 41.4 seconds) and Australian Frank Beaurepaire (20 minutes 48.4 seconds).
Charlton and Borg, during the 1920s, were the two greatest distance swimmers in the world. Their techniques were a far cry from the stroke of Weissmuller.
Beaurepaire, dethroned as Australian champion by "Boy" Charlton, wrote an interesting appreciation of his rival's style:
"Charlton was first brought to my notice as a boy of 13 by Tommy Adrian, the man who beat Kahanamoku in Sydney. To Adrian must go the credit for young Charlton's development. The negative or retarding movement in the old trudgen scissors-kick was removed or eliminated and the crawl leg-flutters added. Fooling and swimming around the Manly baths since babyhood in the calm delightful water has taught a boy what possibly only a score of men have learned in the past 20 years. His propulsion is continuous and ever forward."
The tall, powerfully built Charlton swam with a leg action not unlike Norman Ross. At the time, experts called his stroke the single trudgen-crawl. The wide scissors-kick was made horizontally at the end of the left arm drive, when the body was turned well on to the side. Then followed two or three smaller vertical crawl kicks.
Arne Borg suffered defeat by Charlton at the Paris Olympics, as he had in Australia shortly before the Games. However, Borg was to improve greatly. Up to 1924 he had not trained hard, even for those days, but stung by his defeats he applied himself well. Charlton returned to work on a sheep property in New South Wales and could only swim for a few months each summer. He never competed in an Australian Championship.
Borg was tall and slim, with thin legs. He had a large chest, and swam high in the water, with his back arched and his legs seemingly trailing like threads behind him. Borg swam with his feet in a pigeon-toed position. In order to streamline his legs and trail his feet in a pointed position he used to carry out an exercise where the body weight was supported on hands and insteps (just as we teach swimmers to do in their "body presses" today). This trained his feet to point and cut down water resistance.
In 1924 Longworth analyzed the Borg kick as being "a narrow three-beat for long-distance races and a five-beat for sprints." His arms moved in a fast choppy action. He did not finish his arm pulls with a push at the end.
The greatness of Arne Borg can be judged from the fact that in 1927 in Bologna, Italy, he cut nearly 50 seconds off Charlton's world record for the 1,500 m with a then remarkable swim of 19 minutes 17.2 seconds. This time stood for 11 years, until the Japanese Amano recorded 18 minutes 58.8 seconds in 1938. Even at the 1948 Olympic Games in London, Jim McLane's winning time in the 1,500 m was only 19 minutes 18.5 seconds.
The following story is often told to illustrate Borg's courage and determination. It was at the European Championships that he swam the 1,500 m record. Playing water-polo for Sweden in the morning he had two teeth knocked-out, but, nothing daunted, he recorded his remarkable 1,500 m time that same afternoon.
At the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam there were a few changes in the overall freestyle picture. Weissmuller retained his position as the world's best sprinter, but the crawl swimmer, Zorilla of Argentina, surprised everyone by defeating both Charlton and Borg in the 400 m. Then Borg reversed the 1924 result and defeated Charlton in the 1,500 m. The Frenchman, Jean Taris and Crabbe of the USA demonstrated new techniques at Amsterdam which like Weissmuller's stroke were to have considerable influence on swimming styles.
Taris swam with a flat body position and a wide straight-armed recovery. His arms were thrown loosely, with hands entering thumb-first nearly on the center line. The hands squared themselves as they pulled inwards, making an S-shaped movement under the body. The elbows bent considerably underwater and then straightened as the hands pulled out wide of the hips. The Taris stroke with its straight, scythe-like recovery of the arms was known as the "European" stroke. It was later taken up by the Hungarians.
The Frenchman's breathing was also revolutionary. Jean Taris was the first bilateral breather. He turned his head to breathe on alternate sides so that he took two breaths to each three complete arm cycles. Taris breathed in this way when he raced, and with his bilateral breathing he kept very flat on the water.
Taris had a remarkably large lung capacity. When he visited Australia in 1934 his vital capacity was measured at the Sydney University and found to be 6.5 liters. The average man of his height has a capacity of approximately 4.5 liters.
As a result of his careful observation of the American Clarence Crabbe, Jean Taris later developed one of the most efficient leg actions of his time. Concentrating on the up-beat action of the feet, he was able to drive the kicking board 50 m in 40 seconds. He developed supple legs and very loose ankles.
The sprinter Stephan Barany of Hungary, who was second in the 100 m to Weissmuller in 1928, also swam with the straight arm recovery and a central placing of the hands for the arm pull. Barany pulled under the water with arms in a straighter position than did Taris.
Clarence Crabbe became one of the first of a line of swimmers to use a high peaked elbow in the recovery of the arms. With a hollowed back he had a high position in the water and used little body roll. During his arm recovery the elbow was raised very high with the forearm hanging limply as the hand swung in an outward curve before the arm was straightened forward and the hand extended in front of the head. The pull was on the center line of the body, the elbow making its greatest underwater bend half-way through the drive. There was a long pull back. When the elbow reached the surface the forearm swept on until the arm was pointing almost straight backwards. Then the elbow was lifted vertically.
Crabbe's leg action, which showed no obvious timing with the arms, was very loose and low in the water, it had a preponderance of up-thrust. There was very little bending at the knees. Crabbe developed his "peaked elbows" stroke in Hawaii. The Hawaiian Kalili brothers, and then Helen Madison of Seattle (USA), who won the 100 m and 400 m for women at Los Angeles in 1932, were leading exponents of this high elbow technique.
At the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics, Crabbe touched off Tarts in the 400 m, but the 100 m and 1,500 m went to Japan when Miyazaki won the sprint and 14 year-old Kitamura, the youngest and smallest competitor in the field, won the 1,500 m.
The Japanese leapt into the limelight at Los Angeles with the greatest team of male swimmers the world had seen. So it was to Japan that the swimming world looked for the next advances in technique. In the history of swimming, following the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics, comes the "Japanese Era."
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