We were at the Santa Clara Grand Prix this weekend. In addition to all the fine racing there was an unofficial “clinic” going on simultaneously where we got to watch some of the best in our sport. They were there in a setting that was perhaps much like watching an NFL team in a scrimmage. The racing did count but there wasn’t a ton of pressure to perform for a specific reason, such as Nationals where the World Championship team was being selected…that happens in something like 7 weeks. The atmosphere at that meet will certainly be more “supercharged”.
Back to our NFL analogy; the coaches were watching for specific things like race strategy and technical corrections athletes were making…not so much interested in times being recorded. And athletes were watching each other to gauge their position and progress relative to their main competitors.
This is some of what we observed.
Kick power is even more important than we thought it previously was. In prelims, Michael Phelps powered away from the field in his heat on the 2nd 50 riding his legs all the way home to the touchpad. It was a remarkable show of leg power…out in 24 + back in 25 something…legs all the way home while simultaneously holding onto what appeared to be every drop of water in the pool.
Have a race plan. In the heats of the 100 fly, Tom Shields dove in and broke out a ½ stroke ahead of Justin Lynch at the 15 meter mark. He swam strongly the 1st 50 touching just ahead of Lynch. He came off the wall like a rocket ship, dolphin kicking to exactly the 15 meter mark. He then swam about 22 meters breathing mostly every stroke. The last 12 meters were no breath, beautiful body line, every bit of pull/kick power moving him precisely forward. Justin is a magnificent flyer. He finished a body length back.
Stroke tempos vary from swimmer to swimmer at the elite level. But each swimmer has found that “sweet spot” for them and seem very comfortable racing at their preferred rate not trying to imitate someone else’s. A lot of trial and error over time has gone into this awareness but the best seem to know exactly what works for them.
Breathing patterns vary a little bit as well. Two things stood out very clearly. In freestyle the fastest breathe low in the water turning their head minimally. In butterfly the fastest have very little disturbance to their body line when they breathe.
And finally, when an athlete is not pleased with her swim, she doesn’t cry – at least not where anyone can see her. When a guy is not pleased he isn’t throwing cap and goggles, having a mini tantrum. It is more of “I didn’t execute my plan so next time I better do a more complete job of making it happen” vs. “why did I do so poorly; please someone, anyone give me some sympathy”.
See you at the next “clinic”.