HOW CHAMPIONS DO IT
Researched, produced, and prepared by Brent S. Rushall,
IAN THORPE AT 30 m OF HIS WORLD RECORD 200 m FREESTYLE RACE AT THE 2000 AUSTRALIAN OLYMPIC TRIALS IN SYDNEY
Each frame is .1 seconds apart. Ian Thorpe's time for this race was 1:45.51 seconds. This stroke analysis is from Thorpe's left and includes still frames, a moving sequence in real time, and a moving sequence where each frame is displayed for .5 of a second.
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The following image sequence shows each frame for half a second. It will play through 10 times and then stop. To repeat the sequence, click the browser's "refresh" or "reload" button.
At the end of the following narrative, each frame is illustrated in detail in a sequential collage.
Frame #1: The left arm enters the water almost straight. The right leg has kicked for two reasons. First, to balance the left arm entry's vertical forces. Second, to balance the right arm pull's lateral forces, which are created by the propelling surface of the arm being outside of the body's centerline. The propelling surface of the lower right arm is not positioned optimally (the elbow leads the hand). Overall streamlining from the chest to the knees is good. The head is lifting before turning to inhale on the right side.
Frame #2: The left arm remains "parked" in front of the swimmer. The right arm propulsion has been backward but considerable sliding upward has reduced its potential for optimal effectiveness. An emphasis on the "back-end" of the pull could increase propelling efficiency of the right arm's latter phase. As the head lifts and turns to the right and the right arm slides upward, the left knee drops and flexes preparatory to producing a short quick kick to counter-balance their mainly vertical forces.
Frame #3: The left arm remains "parked" in front of the swimmer. The right arm exits as inhalation occurs. At this moment, there is no obvious propulsion occurring. The left leg kick counter-balances the breathing action. This inertial lag, could be reduced if inhalation occurred lower in the water (deep in the pocket behind the bow wave), which would have alleviated the lifting part of the movement, and the timing was earlier. There is a physiological principle that states breathing should occur outside the effort phase. Inhalation should be quick and started when the right arm is still in the water but no longer producing propulsive forces.
Frame #4: The left arm remains "parked" in front of the swimmer. The inertial lag persists as breathing and the right arm recovering continue. The left leg produces a short, sharp movement, probably to maintain hip elevation for streamlining.
Frame #5: The main features of frame #4 persist. The left arm begins to tense and establish a position to effect propulsion. Inhalation is completed.
Frame #6: The left arm begins to be repositioned for propulsion. The wrist flexes slightly and the upper arm is medially rotated, the lower angle of the scapula is rotated outward, and the shoulder is extended forward. The head begins to return, but the action is one of being mostly forward instead of being solely on the longitudinal axis. The left leg is positioned for a very big kick. The right leg kick is deep.
Frame #7: The hand/forearm of the left arm continues to be repositioned for propulsion. The upper arm and elbow remain elevated, although adduction has begun. The right leg kick is completed and rising. The left leg kicks.
Frame #8: The left arm is now propelling effectively. The propulsive surface is primarily the hand/forearm, although the upper arm would contribute some propulsion in the mid-phase of adduction. This is the "elbow-up" position. Power is generated by upper arm adduction. The left leg kick is stopped at almost a horizontal position. The right leg is positioned to kick. The head looks forward causing the upper torso to be angled upward, increasing frontal resistance. The right arm has entered and will be "parked" in front while the left arm completes its propulsive movements. The right arm was out of the water for .4 seconds on recovery, but in the water for "parking" and propulsion for 1.1 seconds.
Frame #9: Adduction of the left arm continues to drive the hand/forearm and lower portion of the upper arm as the propelling surface. In this movement, forces would be almost horizontal but with a lateral component as the arm rotates in the shoulder joint. The head is almost looking downward. The right leg kicks and the left leg rises.
Frame #10: Left arm adduction is almost completed. The hand/forearm remains vertical. The hips are rotated noticeably. The head is down.
Frame #11: As the left arm extends, the elbow rises. Propulsion is maintained but diminishes as the arm approaches the limit of its range of effective movement. The left leg rises preparatory to kicking. The right leg is moved only a small amount to a horizontal position.
Frame #12: End of left arm propulsion is achieved as the hand exits the water. The right arm begins to press downward. The left leg kicks to balance the downward (vertical) force of the right arm. The head rises slightly as the swimmer looks forward again.
Frame #13: The right arm begins to pull, but with a different movement pattern to that of the more efficient left arm action. The wrist and elbow flex while the upper begins to adduct. The left leg drags downward to counter-balance the large vertical force component created by the right arm.
Frame #14: The right arm begins to bend at the elbow and outward rotation of the upper arm begins. The right leg drags deeper.
Frame #15: The right arm continues to sweep downward. Force is created more efficiently by increased elbow flexion and positioning the hand/forearm propelling surface across the line of intended propulsion. The head continues to look forward. Drag resistance caused by the face's profile can been seen by the amount of "milky" water coming off the chin and cheek. The right leg kicks and the left leg rises.
Frame #16: Propulsion is generated by the hand/forearm surface. The left arm begins to enter. The right leg kick is partially completed. The next stroking cycle begins.
Ian Thorpe's kicks are bothersome. They occur often, but do not function efficiently. One could hypothesize that the swimmer is "kicking fast" for no other purpose than kicking fast. A false belief has grown about Ian Thorpe's large feet and their effect on propulsion. His feet rarely are in a position to exert any significant backward force, and when that occurs, it is in turbulent water. The major purpose of Ian Thorpe's kicking action is maintenance of streamline, counter-balancing forces that would disrupt streamline, and supporting a raised head position.
The swimmer's head movement when breathing could be improved. When inhaling to the right, instead of the head rotating on the longitudinal axis, it is lifted, the breath is taken relatively high, and the head's return is forward and then downward. That action sequence involves considerable and unnecessary vertical movement components. Any swimmer's crawl stroke that involves head lifting is in error. The slowness of the action also introduces a troublesome inertial lag. Breathing faster and rotating only on the longitudinal axis are warranted.
It is surprising that this is part of a world-record swim but has deficient features. The head movement and overall position, and right arm actions need to be altered. When those are corrected, other features might change. However, despite these deficiencies, Ian Thorpe is the best in the world. That is a testimony to his talent and his potential for performance improvement.
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