HOW CHAMPIONS DO IT
Researched, produced, and prepared by Brent S. Rushall,
KRISTY KOWAL AT 40 m OF HER BREASTSTROKE LEG OF THE GOLD MEDAL 4 x 400 m MEDLEY RELAY RACE AT THE 1998 PERTH WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS
The duration between each frame is not known but is consistent.
- Frame #1: The swimmer is fully streamlined at the end of a direct kick. The horizontal alignment of the arms, shoulders, and torso, ably assisted by a head orientation that allows the swimmer to look directly downward, is an outstanding feature. There is an absence of "diving," a feature that was prominent in the short-lived popularity of the "wave breaststroke." The kick has terminated wide, rather than sweeping out and then in. This produces a direct kicking force and reduces any lateral force component.
- Frame #2: As the legs come together to streamline, an action that does not produce propulsion, they lift slightly to produce an even better horizontal streamline. The hands begin to spread due to forces created around the shoulder joint. The head tilts slightly, an action that would assist the rise of the feet.
- Frame #3: The speed of the hand spread appears to be yoked to the speed of the feet coming together. The "wave" created by the frontal cross-section can be seen as the disturbance on the water surface, the white laterally spreading section of the picture. Because of this feature it is reasonable to assume that the swimmer is slowing during this phase of the stroke (there are no propulsive movements being performed).
- Frame #4: As soon as the feet are together the nature of Kristy Kowal's arm action changes. The wrists flex, the elbows bend, and the upper arms adduct, all movements that direct the developing propulsive forces backward. The head starts to rise.
- Frame #5: The arm pull now assumes classic butterfly stroke positions, that is the development of drag forces becomes the primary focus of movements. The hands face almost directly backward, the elbows are "high" due to medial rotation of the upper arms, and very rapid adduction occurs. The swimmer raises her head (turbulence can be seen coming off her nose). The swimmer accelerates with this action. This can be seen by her head being much closer to the front of the swimmer's wave than in the previous two frames.
- Frame #6: The upper arms adduct rapidly forcing the propelling forearm/hand surfaces backward. The legs and lower body still remain streamlined in the shoulder-torso "shadow." The head continues to rise. The swimmer is now in front of the wave.
- Frame #7: Rapid upper arm adduction continues accelerating the swimmer to the point where she has progressed well forward of the wave. The use of the forearm/hand surfaces as the propelling surfaces is clearly depicted. This very powerful movement accounts for the demonstrable increase in the swimmer's velocity. The legs begin to flex at the knees being drawn up to kick.
- Frame #8: Adduction is complete and the elbows come close to the side and the hands are quickly brought under the body. There is no propulsive inward sculling action. It is probable that with this form of "drag-force breaststroke," that inward and outward sculling actions do not occur. At least, they have not been demonstrated here. The head has lifted out of the water assisted by hyperextension of the upper spine, an action that leaves the hips and legs high and still close to the surface. This is a good feature and contrasts dramatically with the movements of Samantha Riley shown in another analysis in this section of the Swimming Science Journal. The legs continue kick preparation.
- Frame #9: The elbows and hands are close to the body before recovering. The hips remain high and the legs continue to be drawn up. At this stage propulsion of the shoulders has ceased. The wave starts to overtake the swimmer's leading edge and begins to spread laterally. In a pool, this would be seen as the wave on the surface that is more commonly referred to as the swimmer's "wake."
- Frame #10: The legs continue to draw up, a movement that would contribute largely to the swimmer's slowing. Movements of the arms and hands are minor and reposition then to be thrust directly forward.
- Frame #11: The speed of the leg draw increases, an action that assists the swimmer to achieve a "tight" leg flexion prior to kicking. Some hip flexion occurs. The arms and hands begin to be thrust forward.
- Frame #12: Full leg compression is achieved along with added hip flexion. The extensor muscles have been rapidly and fully stretched, a preparatory movement that will increase the force of the ensuing kick. The feet are turned out before any extension of either the knees or hips occurs. The arm recovery and head and shoulders return movements occur together. The wave caused by the swimmer has grown noticeably.
- Frame #13: A very powerful leg kick is demonstrated. There is no outsweeping but rather a direct backward thrust. The arms, head, and shoulders are streamlined very rapidly. As the swimmer begins to be covered by the water, surface water is deflected over the top of the swimmer and separates to form the wave. The hands and lower arms have extended through the leading edge of the wave.
- Frame #14: The legs are near the end of the kicking movement. To avoid damage to the leg joints the kick slows down. There is an immediate slowing of the swimmer's progression as the wave now has moved closer to the hands. All but the swimmer's legs are streamlined.
- Frame #15: The position in Frame #1 is repeated.
This analysis provides another perspective of Kristy Kowal's "drag-force breaststroke." It demonstrates an alternative and very different model to the more traditional outsweep-insweep lift-force-arm-movement form of the stroke. The swimmer's streamlining, force-generation, use of the forearm/hand surfaces for propulsion, and direct kick are worthy of emulation.
Return to Table of Contents for this section.