HOW CHAMPIONS DO IT
Researched, produced, and prepared by Brent S. Rushall,
IAN THORPE AT 375 m OF HIS WORLD-RECORD 400 m RACE AT THE 1999 PAN PACIFIC CHAMPIONSHIPS IN SYDNEY
Each frame is .1 seconds apart. Ian Thorpe's time in this event was 3:41.83 a substantial improvement on the old world record for this distance.
- Frame #1: The left arm is in mid-pull. At this moment, the whole arm, including the upper arm, is being used as the propelling surface. The shoulders are flat. The left leg kicks to counter-balance the vertical forces created by the descending right arm. It should be noted that the right arm enters upper arm first, something that is rarely, if ever, mentioned in stroke analyses.
- Frame #2: The left arm continues to "push" directly backward, its forces being generated by extension at the elbow and shoulder. The left shoulder rotates upward as the right shoulder rotates downward. The right arm has entered in a fully stretched position. The left kick is completed and the right leg is bent to such an extent that the foot is out of the water. The swimmer is streamlined.
- Frame #3: The left arm continues to perform a very long push backward while "rounding out" (the beginning of extraction). The right leg kicks to counter-balance the vertical forces created by the left arm's exit. The body has rolled further to the right. The right shoulder is elevated to achieve a greater length forward. The head turns to the left to breathe.
- Frame #4: The left arm is still stretched forward and the left arm has exited. There is no propulsive force created by the arms at this time. The right leg completes its kick as the left leg prepares to kick. The rapidity of kicking and lack of arm propulsion suggests that the swimmer is waiting for kicks to be completed, which is evidence of a kick-dominated swimmer. If that is so there is room for improvement which, when given the performances already achieved by this young man, is nothing short of "frightening." Inhalation begins.
- Frame #5: The body continues to roll to the right without any arm propulsion. The left leg kicks, it being the second kick executed to counter-balance right-arm vertical forces. The right arm begins to press downward. The hand is turned inward slightly. The head begins to return after inhalation is completed.
- Frame #6: The right arm bends at the elbow and the upper arm medially rotates to achieve an "elbow-up" position. The elbow remains stable and close to the surface as the forearm is repositioned to eventually perform a direct push backward. The left leg is near completion of its kick. Streamline is very good as the head returns to look to the bottom. During the last three frames, the left arm has been recovering.
- Frame #7: The right elbow is still stable close to the surface. The forearm/hand-propelling surface begins to apply force backward, the force being developed through adduction of the upper arm. The left arm is close to entry and so the right leg is positioned to kick to offset its vertical movements. The shoulders are rotating to the left and the head has returned fully.
- Frame #8: Right arm adduction continues causing the propelling surface to sweep to the side. An increased bend at the elbow partially offsets the laterality of that action. The left arm enters and the right leg kicks. The right leg kick performs a double function at this time, correcting for right arm laterality and counter-balancing the vertical forces of the entering left arm.
- Frame #9: Right arm adduction is nearing its maximal effectiveness. Dwindling adduction and increasing extension will achieve pressure on the forearm/hand. In this and the previous two frames, the lower part of the upper arm has moved at the same speed as the propelling surface indicating that it too adds to propulsion. The left arm has entered and is stretched forward. The right leg kick is completed. The left leg prepares to kick.
- Frame #10: Right-arm extension increases as adduction is completed. The left leg begins to kick so that it will be timed to counter-balance vertical force components associated with right arm extraction. The head begins to rotate to the right while the shoulders continue their rotation.
- Frame #11: Right arm extension and elevation occurs as the left leg kicks. The left arm remains stretched forward and just below the surface. Body rotation is completed. Head rotation to the right continues. The right leg rises preparatory to kicking.
- Frame #12: Right arm extraction is achieved and the left-leg kick nears completion. The left arm begins to develop force. The left hand is turned slightly inward, an action that will reduce any tendency to push to the side. The head is turned as far to the right as it will go. The right leg has broken the water's surface and is ready to kick. The shoulders begin to reverse their previous rotation.
- Frame #13: The left arm does not display an inactive stage similar to that of the right arm (frames #4 and #5). Adduction of the upper arm causes the arm to press backward. The elbow bends to position the forearm/hand surface for propulsion. The right leg kicks to counter-balance the vertical force components of the left arm. The head turns to look partly forward.
- Frame #14: After rapid left-elbow flexion, the upper arm's adduction accelerates. The elbow is now well outside the body. The right-leg kick is completed as the left leg rises preparatory to kicking. The head is raised causing the torso to be curved upward. That marks the first disruption of otherwise perfect streamlining.
- Frame #15: Left arm adduction produces a large propelling surface that includes most of the upper arm. The head looks forward. The right leg kicks to counter-balance vertical force components created by the right arm as it approaches entry and lateral forces produced by left arm adduction.
- Frames #16 and #17: The position of frames #1 and #2 are repeated.
The speed of recovery (approximately .4 seconds) is much shorter than the duration of either pull (1.0 seconds for the right arm and 1.1 seconds for the left). This gives the illusion of an overtaking stroke. However, a more logical explanation is that it demonstrates the swimmer "parking" the inactive arm while the other completes its long and direct propulsion. The resistance incurred by the increased wetted surface is less detrimental than the resistances that would be caused by a slower recovery. This is also a characteristic of the other tall Australian distance swimmer, Grant Hackett.
Ian Thorpe's body roll is different to that normally described. The position of maximum rotation is achieved at full stretch after entry and as the other hand exits. By the time propulsive forces become fully effective the shoulders are relatively flat. That causes a lateral action as the upper arm pivots at the shoulder joint, which needs to be partly offset/corrected through a same-side leg movement (possibly a reduced kick). There is no "leaning" on the arm during its pull. Perhaps for men's distance swimming and swimmers of this physical structure streamlining and direct force propulsion are more important than body rotation.
The directness of each arm's pull and the effective length of those pulls are the outstanding features of Ian Thorpe's stroke. His physique has caused a compromise between arm pull force and body rotation. His head action could be improved if rotation was to only occur about the longitudinal axis. The appearance of kick-domination could be improved. The extended hold of the right arm that requires two kicks would seem to be something worthy of consideration for correction and improvement. That "hold" contributes to a "bounce" or "surge" in Ian Thorpe's stroke.
The above suggestions aside, Ian Thorpe demonstrates streamlining, effective force production, and effective stroke length that are worthy of emulation.
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