Great Sporting Rivalries In Other Sports: Swinger vs. Smooth?

Here's an idea a little from the "left field":

If you've been following Swim Smooth for a while you'll know about our Swim Types system which recognises six classic types of swimmer from complete beginner through to elite competitor. At the top of the tree are two stroke styles that have been used by Olympic champions through the decades: the "Swinger" and the "Smooth".

Smooths are physically gifted, tend to swim with a long flowing *smooth* stroke style and are natural sprinters. Very good at sport from a young age, they are confident in their abilities but tend to have a reserved modest personality - sometimes so laid-back they are virtually horizontal! Always charming and gracious, they may struggle for motivation (especially in training) - in fact getting fired-up may be the biggest challenge they need to overcome. But such is their talent, when motivated and conditions suit them, a smooth is almost impossible to beat.

Swingers are a very different breed, in the water they are a bundle of energy with a shorter stroke and faster turnover. Less pre-disposed to sprinting than Smooths, they are naturally suited to distance swimming and have the perfect training-personality - endlessly motivated and passionate about their sport. Swingers can be quite reactive, don't fear confrontation (in fact they may deliberately court it - see below) and can't help saying what the think - whatever the outcome. They are very open minded, study the big picture of their sport, take insight and inspiration from a variety of sources and are very open to experimentation and innovation. As a result a mature Swinger has the toolset to adapt to different conditions and can dominate when conditions are not ideal or change quickly.

These two strongly contrasting personalities are very much Ying and Yang - neither better or stronger than the other but contrasting with different strengths and weaknesses. When these two opposing forces interact as two individuals in a sporting rivalry something very special can be born - complementary and interacting, their rivalry can lift each other to heights they would otherwise not achieve:

Great Sporting Rivalries In Other Sports

This may seem like a controversial idea but what if this Swinger vs. Smooth dynamic plays out in other sports too? What if this battle of convention vs. invention and talent vs. drive plays out in other sporting arenas?

Consider these all-time classic sporting rivalries:

Borg (Sm) vs. McEnroe (Sw)

We don't really need to tell you which is which do we? The ultimate "fire and ice" match-up, Borg was the great champion - calm, talented and playing a classical game. McEnroe, unorthodox, aggressive, confrontational and having an endless passion for tennis. A fascinating match-up:

Borg (left) looking suave. McEnroe: "When do we get on and start playing tennis?"
Other notable tennis rivalries: Pete Sampras [Sm] vs. Andre Agassi [Sw].

Prost (Sm) vs. Senna (Sw)

What happened in 1988 when the super-smooth Alain Prost was joined at Mclaren by rising star Ayrton Senna? Fireworks is an under-statement! Alain was the established super-star of the sport, calm, considered, playing the percentages, unbeatable on his day. Senna was fast, aggressive, versatile, sending a message with his uncompromising driving style. As teammates they won a world championship each, culminating in their famous collisions at the 1989 and 1990 Japanese Grand Prix.

1988: Senna (left) and Prost (right)

Confrontational is an understatement. A likely
outcome of standing up to Senna on a racetrack.
Senna fundamentally changed the way Formula 1 drivers carried out their craft - pushing the sport firmly into the modern era of aggressive overtaking and a win-at-all-costs approach.

Other notable F1 rivalries: Lewis Hamilton [Sw] vs. Vettel [Sm]

Evert (Sm) vs Navratilova (Sw)

The rivalry between Evert and Navratilova became the central spoke of women’s tennis in the '80s. These rivals bore the brunt of building the women’s game. While they each had their fans and detractors, overall their rivalry was hugely positive in building a fanbase for women's tennis.

As the rivalry built and they pushed themselves to greater heights, Evert became more focused, consistent, patient, and determined. Navratilova grew more agitated and volatile, often arguing with the umpire or quipping and joking with the crowd.

Unusually for two great rivals their friendship grew stronger over years of competition and today they are closer than ever.

Muhammad Ali (Sw) - Joe Frazier (Sm)

What else can be left to be said about these two great champions? Frazer, quiet, calm, modest, considered. Ali, outspoken, fast-talking, reactive, boundlessly ambitious. There's no doubt that Ali's endless clowning wound up Frazer but this only served to motivate him to train harder in the ring.

Their three titanic clashes in the ring are some of the greatest sporting spectacles of all time.

Arnold Palmer (Sw) vs. Jack Nicholas (Sm)

Arnold Palmer was the original trailblazer of golf, developing a huge following drawn to his charismatic wisecracking personality and devil-may-care play. His swing was never a thing of beauty—more of an agricultural swipe than the elegant arc of a Sam Snead or an Ernie Els—but it would always get the job done.

Arnold Palmer (left) and Jack Nicholas in 2015
11 years younger than Palmer, Nicholas turned pro in 1961. Partly because of natural makeup, and partly due to will, Nicklaus' temperament was built to last and this longevity of career lead to him becoming the greatest golfer of all time. Nicklaus has a "low arousal" personality meaning when tournament pressure increased, it brought him into the sweet-spot of motivation rather than overloading him.

What Jack possessed that nobody else has ever had to such a degree was the combination of power and accuracy, which was partly due to his physical strengths, but mostly due to his technical skill. He simply had the better swing, by far.

Dave Scott (Sw) vs. Mark Allen (Sm)

And last but not least, the greatest ever rivalry from our own sport of triathlon. Dave Scott, super-motivated, the great innovator of Ironman and a 6 time champion, taking race winning times from over 9 hours down to 8 hours through the 1980s. Mark Allen, 4 years younger and super-talented, modest and quietly spoken, totally dominant at the short-course distance, looking to dethrone Scott at Ironman.

The classic shot: Scott (left) and Allen

These two all-time greats of our sport went at it year after year in Hawaii. Five times Scott saw off Allen before Mark finally beat him in 1989 and went on to dominate the race himself, also ending up a 6 times champion.

If you think we're imagining things, or this is all a stretch too far then that's fine, please ignore. But if you are seeing what we're seeing - and have examples of your own - then enjoy the view.

Swinger vs. Smooth is everywhere when you look for it.

Swim Smooth!


Anonymous said...

Federer (smooth) vs Nadal/Djokovic/Murray (all swinger)

Anonymous said...

You might think of some rivalries :
- Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo
- Lee Chong Wei and Lin Dan

Adam Young said...

Great - definitely recognise those! Federer is perhaps the smoothest of smooths!

Any others out there?


Roland Gosebruch said...

Sorry to nitpick, but Jack's last name is Nicklaus, not Nicholas.

Anonymous said...

Love it.

Niki Lauda (sm) Vs James Hunt (sw)!

/Lennart F

John said...

I disagree with Ali vs. Frazier. Ali may have had a brash personality but his boxing style was pure smooth. Frazier on the other hand may have had a quiet personality but his boxing style was an aggressive and in-your-face swinger.

John said...

Coe (sm) & Ovett (sw)

Anonymous said...

I rather think you have disproved your hypotheses, or at least got your characterisation wrong. Calling Vettel smooth in terms of either his driving style of his personality is astonishing. As for Muhammad Ali, his personality fits your Swinger, his fighting style on the other hand was super smooth. Not to mention Dawn Fraser (sprinter, very competitive and aggressive) and Murray Rose (1500m specialist - smooth style competitive but relatively laid back)

Adam Young said...

Great thoughts and suggestions guys! Coe vs. Ovett indeed.

Hi anonymous - what's your name? As the F1 fan in the Swim Smooth office, I'd definitely put Hunt as the Smooth and Vettel definitely has the smooth personality too - not astonishing at all - yes he sees red occasionally on track but otherwise v.smooth and charming.

laura said...

I think this is a great blog, and fantastic analogy of two great sporting types.

As a bit of a F1 geek as well as a swimming geek I don't think you can compare Vettel you Hunt. Two different drivers that never met on a F1 track.
Better to use analogies from drivers that directly raced each other to truly see their racing styles under race conditions.
Vettel vs Hamilton (smooth and swinger)
Hamilton and Rosburg (swinger and smooth)
Hunt vs Lauda (the very definition of a swinger! Hunt was massively innovative, and at times very reactive and confrontational. Lauda was the smooth, quietly confident and preferring the "classic" racing style).

I love this post! As a swinger myself, I don't shy away from super- hard training or a little confrontation.... and i married a Bambino who now learning to swim is showing signs of becoming a smooth!

Anonymous said...

For me the Lionel Messi Cristiano Ronaldo rivalrie in football has to be the best example right now of the smooth vs swinger personalities in all sports.

Greg said...

In soccer lionel messi
In basketball kobe and MJ

Anonymous said...

You're in the right ball park, rivalry and motivation and the endlees circle of what ever it takes.

Doesn't really need to be perfect box like fit based on a strong stereo type. However, i am sure if you find a good psychologist they may be able to identify various attributes to aid categorization more succinctly.

Just enough attributes required to elicit the correct response in each individual to compete.

Why not do a little research and chat to some of the athletes in these great rivalries and then work with a psychologist to classify.

I see a phd in the making, if it hasnt been done already.

Good luck

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