Researched, produced, and prepared by Brent S. Rushall, Ph.D., R.Psy.


Each frame is .1 second apart. It is not known at what stage of the race these pictures were taken. Ian Thorpe's time in this event was 3:49.64.

Ian Thorpe has performed extremely well winning Australian Age-group Championships in all events. His crawl stroke performances are far better than any recorded at this age. He is coached by Doug Frost at Padstow, a suburb of Sydney, Australia. The Padstow club trains in Doug Frosts' private six-lane 25-meter pool. Ian's sister Christine has represented Australia in distance events. As well as the two Thorpes, Doug Frost has also produced recent Australian representatives Brooke Townsend and Philip Bryant.

Some readers of this analysis will want to attribute to it a concept such as "an overtaking stroke," or "front-quadrant swimming." Such characterizations are nonsensical. One of the major factors governing individual style is a swimmer's physical attributes. Technique differences between champions are usually determined by the necessity to accommodate peculiar physical dimensions while adhering to basic mechanical principles. In the case of Ian Thorpe and Grant Hackett (see Hackett's separate analysis), both are physically immature, exceptionally tall, and highly ranked in distance events. A problem that confronts tall, thin distance swimmers is the difference in duration between the recovery and propulsion phases, the former being much shorter than the latter. These two examples show that a fast recovery is made, probably to reduce the time that its vertical forces are influential in the stroke. In Ian Thorpe's case, the duration of arm recoveries is in the vicinity of .3 seconds for the right arm and .4 seconds for the left arm. However, the time spent by both arms in the propulsive phase is much longer and so the recovered arm "has to be put somewhere." The end of the recovery consists of stretching forward long and straight under water while the other arm completes its propulsion. This movement is not made to "reduce resistance" or to "enhance streamline." It simply is done to accommodate the length of time this shape of swimmer takes to complete propulsion. It is positioned in the water to minimize the transitory added resistance that results from increasing the wetted surface of non-propulsive surfaces of the swimmer. Swimmers of different shapes and physical proportions might not be required to perform with this restriction.

Notable Features

Ian Thorpe's stroke demonstrates a six-beat kick for each complete stroke. Because of the length of time that an arm is underwater, time is available to perform that number of kicks. A kick is performed to counter-balance each arm entry and exit.

Since a large part of both arm propulsive phases is executed with the other arm extended forward, a considerable part of the latter half of force generation is conducted mainly with internal rotator muscles of the shoulder, lower arm rotators, and elbow extensors. This is occasioned by relatively flat shoulders. Time will tell if this specific localization of effort will prove to be troublesome.

Several facets of this stroke are worthy of emulation or adaptation. A major strength of Ian Thorpe's stroke is the length of time spent generating direct forces. His left arm movement is brilliant, his streamlining superb, and his potential unknown. With maturation, this individual should re-write the record books.

Ian Thorpe

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