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Swimming at the Olympics – What you can learn by watching it on television!

With the Olympics on our doorstep, there are many ways swimmers can use the Games to improve their own swimming.

Swimming is one of the major sports at the Olympics and the television coverage will provide all swimmers, with the opportunity to watch and analyse the techniques used by the best swimmers in the world.  There will be camera’s watching each swimmer’s every move and you will be able to look closely at their technique from a number of different angles.  You will also see pictures of swimmers in the marshalling room, just prior to their event as well as a close up of them when they are introduced for each final.  Are they smiling, do they look serious or do they look nervous?

Listed below are a number of key areas for everyone watching television to observe and learn.

Starts

With the angle of the television cameras, you will be able to watch the start of every single swimmer.  Watch closely their trajectory of the blocks and how far out they go before hitting the water.  All swimmers will enter with their finger tips first and then their elbows, shoulders and head, hips, legs and feet, all going through the one entry hole.  This reduces resistance and allows them to maintain the maximum speed when under the water.  The commentators will talk about the reaction time for each swimmer.  This is the time taken from the sound of the starting signal to the moment their feet have left the starting blocks.  While reaction time is important, the level of force applied to the block on take-off is equally as important.  A few swimmers will have slightly slower reaction times, however because they have gained more power off the block and more streamlined through the water, they will come up in front out of the start.

In freestyle, backstroke and butterfly, swimmers are allowed to kick for a distance of 15m underwater from the start and the turns.  Watch closely each of the swimmers shown and you will notice that some swimmers will do this netter than others.  If you are a young swimmer, you should be practicing your butterfly kick underwater on every start and turn you do in training everyday.

At the end of each race, the commentators will dissect each section of the race.  This is the time to watch carefully as you will often see key skills completed in slow motion – a great way to learn.  The strat will be replayed and the commentators will point out where one swimmer gained an advantage over another.

Turns

Turns are just as important as starts and in many races will be the difference between winning a medal and not.  The expert swimmers will accelerate from the flags into and out of the wall.  This is critical if you want to start the next lap with maximum speed.  Do you get faster as you go under the flags into a turn?  Do you push off the wall hard on every turn and accelerate on the first few strokes?  Once again, watch the butterfly kicks underwater in freestyle, backstroke and butterfly.  The other thing to watch for is the speed at which each swimmer actually turns their body around on the wall, especially in breaststroke and butterfly.

Finishes

Now the finishes will be replayed over and over again, especially in the close races.  Watch how the swimmers accelerate from 10 metres out and into the wall.  At every major swim meet, there is a swimmer in a freestyle event who takes a breath between the flags and the wall at the finish, and they drop back one position.  Who will be that swimmer at this meet?

In breaststroke and butterfly particularly, it is important to start planning the number of strokes you will take to hit the wall on a full stroke when you are at least 5m out.  Do you practice this in training and in your races?

Underwater camera

Underwater cameras will film a swimmers every stroke, especially in the middle lanes in each race.  As a swimmer of any age, watching the best swimmers in the world, from underwater is a great opportunity to learn.  The commentators will talk about the swimmers technique so listen carefully as they provide hints on how you can improve your swimming.  Watch how the butterflyers come in under their body with each stroke and watch the freestylers and backstrokers apply constant pressure to the water with one arm and then the other.  The other thing to watch is how these swimmers pull their body past their hand, rather than pulling their hand back past their body.

Race Pace

Many races at the Olympics will be won and lost around how swimmers pace their races.  Some will go out too fast and others will go out too slow.  Some will have a lot of energy left when they finish their race and others will have nothing left with 25 metres to go.  The commentators will talk about splits at the end of each lap.  They will compare the leading swimmers splits, particularly in finals, to the split swum by the person who holds the world record.

Pacing your race is very important at all levels of swimming.

Summary

The swimming at the Olympics will provide us with many great highs and lows and for all swimming enthusiasts, it also creates the opportunity for us to watch and learn from the best in the world.  Watch all events closely and watch the skills and technique of the best swimmers alive today.

Gary Barclay

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