HOW CHAMPIONS DO IT
Researched, produced, and prepared by Brent S. Rushall,
KRISTY KOWAL AT 20 m OF HER LEG OF THE 4 x 100 m MEDLEY RELAY GOLD MEDAL RACE AT THE 1998 PERTH WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS
The duration is not known but is consistent between each frame.
- Frame #1: The recovering arms are almost straight as the kick finishes. The head looks forward and mostly down. The arms and torso are well streamlined.
- Frame #2: As with most top women breaststrokers, the swimmer completes the extension phase of the leg kick with the feet well apart. There is no circular sweep in but rather a direct backward kick. The arms extend fully forward.
- Frame #3: As the legs start to come together to facilitate streamlining the hands start to push to the side. In this phase neither the legs nor the arms are generating propulsion but the "dead" period is quite brief.
- Frame #4: The arms have spread to shoulder width while the legs are almost together. At this position the arms start to exert some force on the water. The beginning of an elbow bend indicates an increase in force. To this stage the swimmer has remained relatively stable in the water with a hyperextended lower back.
- Frame #5: The arms spread further apart with power being supplied by the adductor muscles at the shoulders. This can be seen by the outward rotation of the lower angle of the scapulae just below the swimmer's suit outline. The stable, relatively streamlined torso and shoulder positions are maintained.
- Frame #6: Adduction of the arms continues with the pitch of the hands beginning to change from an almost vertical orientation to an angle of attack that will produce upward lift. That is probably caused by an initiation of medial rotation of the upper arms, which positions the arms to create drag forces backward.
- Frame #7: Adduction and medial rotation of the upper arms continues. A bend at the elbow of each arm positions the arms to emphasize a backward push.
- Frame #8: The arms are positioned in a classic two-arm push, a similar position to that attained by many butterfly swimmers. Upper arm adduction is accelerated. The push is both backward and downward, probably to support the start of a head and shoulder rise.
- Frame #9: The strong arm push back and down can be seen from the position of the bent arms with the hand/forearm surfaces providing the propulsive impetus. Upper arm adduction has supplied most of the power. The head and shoulders continue to lift while the body and legs remain streamlined. The rigidity of the legs is lessened preparatory to being drawn up for kicking.
- Frame #10: Upper arm adduction is at its peak but near the end of developing functional propulsion. The arms sweep in with the hands preserving the final vestiges of propulsion by being abducted at the wrist. The head has emerged from the water. The legs are loosened further. The start of a decrease in streamlining, due to the increase in the frontal surface area at the surface can be seen through the emergence of white surface turbulence emanating from the swimmer's shoulders.
- Frame #11: Any propulsion from the hand/forearm surfaces is finished. The elbows remain "wide" as the shoulders are elevated further to follow the head. The knees begin to bend to draw up the legs.
- Frame #12: The hands have come together ready to be pushed forward. The elbows start to come into the body as a consequence of the hands coming together. There is no deliberate tucking of the elbows to the body. The head and shoulders are maintained out of the water as the legs proceed to be drawn-up. It is notable that Kristy Kowal's hips have not sunk any further into the water. This is achieved by extreme hyperextension of the thoracic region of the spine during shoulders and head elevation.
- Frame #13: The hands push slightly up and forward causing the elbows to come in closer to the swimmer's midline. As the legs bend further the knees start to spread. The surface turbulence has grown markedly as can be seen through the large white mass streaming from the swimmer's shoulders. This illustrates why the breaststroke swimmers of today are so much faster than when the rules forbid complete submerging. Then the turbulence existed for almost the entire stroke.
- Frame #14: The arms recover forward slightly over the surface and the knees flex further.
- Frame #15: As the arms extend and reenter the water the head and shoulders are driven forward and down. The legs compress preparatory to kicking. This is the position of greatest drag resistance, as depicted by the expanse of "white" water spreading behind the swimmer.
- Frame #16: Arm extension is most vigorous. Even so, the triceps area of the arms produce some drag turbulence, as extension is incomplete. The head and shoulders continue to drive down and forward. As is a characteristic with most top breaststrokers, the kick begins with the feet fully everted and dorsi flexed.
- Frame #17: Arm extension continues with the head and shoulders flat in the water. This means the kick will be propelling a fully streamlined torso-shoulder-head-arms load, a very beneficial characteristic. The kick is initiated with the knees comfortably apart.
- Frame #18: The front half of the swimmer is streamlined as the legs kick directly backward. The position displayed in Frame #1 is attained to initiate the next cycle.
Kristy Kowal's stroke is noticeably efficient. She is able to maintain her hips high and her front half flat for most of the stroke. Her kick is direct and used to the full possible extent. Her arms have a short phase of power generated more from a "butterfly" pulling action rather than a lateral lifting motion.
There are many features of this stroke that would be useful for serving as a model for emulation by young swimmers.
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