The results firmly dispel some of the age-old myths about swimming, such as the idea that the difference between mere mortals and great swimmers is that Olympic champions take fewer strokes than anyone else.
(A big shout-out to the Triton Wear for making this data available to everyone on their website.)
Here's the stroke count per 50m for the men's 1500m, clearly showing Gold Medallist Paltrinieri (orange line) taking considerably more strokes (average 39 per 50m) than those finishing behind him:
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Notice also how silver medallist Connor Jaeger starts with a super-long stroke (28 strokes per 50m) but simply cannot sustain it, with his stroke continually shortening to 39 strokes per length (the same as Paltrinieri).
Two take home points from this:
- If your natural style is to swim with a shorter stroke at a higher stroke rate, stick with it. Of course you should always look to fine tune your technique within that style but there's nothing fundamentally wrong with this way of swimming - just look at Paltrinieri's amazing 14:34 for 1500m.
- An overly long stroke simply isn't sustainable. Try and find the right balance between the length of your stroke and the rate of your stroke for you (see Ledecky's data below).
We're sure you admired Katie Ledecky's dominant performances at the games, winning the 200m, 400m and 800m freestyle. What's her secret? Here's one of them, amazing consistency in her stroke, here shown in the 400m (orange):
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After the first length (from a dive of course) the top 5 are taking between 40 and 48 strokes per length, which aren't particularly long strokes for Olympic swimmers. However it's Katie who's stroke is so incredibly consistent - not too long, not too short, perfectly judged and sustainable at 40 strokes per length.
And in the men's 100m we witness in numbers Kyle Chambers gold medal performance (blue), pacing things perfectly and coming through the field in the second 50m:
If you watch the race it looks like Kyle negative splits but of course the dive start also means a faster first 50 but only slightly in his case - perfectly judged under extreme pressure!
Last but not least is Mack Horton's (blue) take-down of Sun Yang in the Men's 400m with a fantastic surge in the last 100m, in stark comparison to James Guy (yellow) who went out fast but slowed throughout the race:
How did Mack surge so well? By actively shortening his stroke...
And increasing his stroke rate (cadence), the exact opposite of what we've been told since the 90s is efficient swimming:
(Note this data is time per stroke cycle, so a lower number indicates a faster turnover e.g. 1.6 sec/cycle = 75 strokes per minute, 1.8 sec/cycle = 67 strokes per minute).