Day 1 of the London 2012 Olympics is in the books and Michael Phelps looks like he is in trouble having barely qualified for the final (by 0.07s) and then placing 4th. This is a surprising result given that Michael Phelps broke new ground with his Olympic performances in the past. Weighing in at 185 pounds, at an imposing height of 6 foot four inches, this man seems to have been designed for the sport of swimming. At 15, Phelps came fifth at his first Olympics in Sydney. Then he pushed farther, trained harder, and before he turned 16 Phelps broke the world record in the 200 metre butterfly, becoming the youngest male world record holder ever in the sport of swimming. From there, the story becomes well known; 6 gold and two bronze in Athens, and an astounding 8 gold in Beijing. But a repeat performance was not in the cards tonight in London. Phelps swam 4:09.28, which is 3.27 seconds slower than he was at US trials just a few weeks ago. That suggests to me that it Michael had to taper quite a bit just to make the team, and that his fitness might have suffered as a result. That is a risk that the American team takes placing their trials so close to the Games.
Ryan Lochte however completed an outstanding 400 I.M. on his way to his first gold medal of these games swimming a 4:05.18, a 2 second improvement from trials. From my perspective it was a clear demonstration of how hard training can translate into performance. Here’s a video of Ryan’s training base in Florida that shows a few clips of his intense dryland training. And here are some of his rope drills that he uses to develop arm strength:
Where Phelps was hell-bent on success from a very young age, Lochte was much more laid back, often chastised by his father for “misbehaving in workout”. Lochte admits that a swimming loss at the age of 14 changed his perspective, and really motivated him to work hard. The Daytona Beach Native trained in a brutal, high-volume training group in Florida, swimming around 24 hours a week (often over 100 km in a week). On top of this, Ryan does 6 hours of weight training in the gym, along with a 2 hour strength program on Sundays. This amount of out-of-water intensive training may seem excessive for a swimmer, but Ryan claims he often feels more focused during his lifting sessions than in the water, and the feeling of getting stronger outside of the pool is what drives him. It certainly paid off tonight.
Lochte’s fitness and strength enabled him to swim an excellent race technically which is reflected in his stroke rates – basically how fast he moved his arms in order to propel himself through the water. His stroke rates for butterfly were 45 strokes per minute on the first 50 metres and then 46 on the second 50. That shows that he was relaxed on the first 50 then increased his intensity on the second. This is the pattern that one should have on each leg of the race. For backstroke the pattern continued with 36 strokes / min on the first 50 and 37 on the second. Breastroke was 37 then 41 and freestyle was 39 and then 40. This kind of swimming is textbook. Lochte certainly seems to be on form. It will certainly be interesting to watch the rest of the swim meet unfold. Michael Phelps should be stronger in the shorter events, and there is lots of racing still to go.
Bogdan Knezevic is an honours student and published scientist in neuroscience at the University of Calgary. He has represented Canada internationally in swimming from 2006-2009, and is currently a representative of team Serbia. Dr. Wells is an Assistant Professor at the University of Toronto in the Faculties of Medicine and Kinesiology. He is the sport science analyst for the Olympic Broadcast Consortium during the London 2012 Games, and the author of Superbodies: Peak Performance Secrets from the World’s Best Athletes.