Stroke Faults Cost Dara Gold

Dara Torres won two Silver Medals at the Beijing Olympics at age 41—an amazing accomplishment.

But could she have won two Golds?

Our analysis shows that stroke faults cost Dara two richly-deserved Gold Medals.

Action-Reaction

Newton's Third Law of Motion states: ‘For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction'. For a swimmer, this mean that if you pull straight back against the water, the water will push you straight forward. Similarly, if you push down on the water, the water will push you up. If you push up on the water, the water will push you down. If you push sideways, the water will push you sideways in the opposite direction.

Dara's Hand Pull Pattern

Here is an underwater photo of Dara's right hand pull during her 100m free leg of the women's 4X100 IM. The upper arrow shows the direction of her hand. The lower arrow is the reaction of the water.

 
Dara Torres Right Insweep

This phase of the arm pull is known as the ‘insweep'. As can be seen in the photo below of Libby Trickett, World Record holders have almost zero ‘insweep' (blue box), as sweeping the hand in pushes water to the side, and the water responds by pushing the swimmer sideways, instead of forward. World Record holders push the water straight back. The water responds by pushing them forward into the records book.

 
World Record Insweep

Each pull of the arm underwater takes less than one second. By sweeping in as Dara does, she not only pushes herself sideways, but she also wastes precious time that could be devoted to pushing straight back.

Her sideways insweep on her left is even more excessive. Her left hand has moved all the way past the right side of her body. The upper arrow shows the direction of her hand. The lower arrow shows the reaction of the water.

 
Dara Torres Left Insweep

Entry

Another problem we found was with Dara's hand entry and ‘catch'. ‘Catch' is a term applied to the time in the stroke when the swimmer attempts to ‘grab' the water to start the pull.

 
Dara Torres Right Catch

Dara is attempting to ‘catch' the water with her hand by bending her wrist. She also has all of her fingers squeezed together, which actually reduces the size of the hand dramatically.

World Record holders ‘catch' the water by bending their elbow, rather than their wrist. In this way, they pull with their forearm and hand, instead of just their hand.

 
World Record Catch

Research has shown that during the pull, the hand accounts for 70% of the pull, while the forearm accounts for 30%. By bending her wrist and trying to catch the water with just her hand, Dara is discarding 30% of her pulling power.

Libby Trickett

Dara was out-touched at the wall by Australian World Record holder Libby Trickett. While most observers will attribute this to Trickett's age, an examination of her pull shows that she was more efficient than Torres.

 
Libby Trickett Entry and Pull

Libby enters the water with her left hand relaxed (yellow circle), with her fingers slightly open. This is characteristic of all efficient swimmers. They work from their hips, and relax their hands and arms. Inefficient swimmers tense up their hands and arms, and relax their hips. Just the opposite.

Again, you can also see that Trickett has minimal insweep on her right arm (blue box).

Conclusion

Fitness conditioning and strength training are not sufficient to guarantee a Gold Medal in today's highly competitive environment. Swimmers need to see their underwater stroke at race pace frame-by-frame and correct any stroke faults. This should be done as early as possible in their career so that they can practice an efficient stroke during their swim workouts.

Under the stress of competition, swimmers will always revert to the stroke pattern they repeated the most.

Age-group swimmers take about 400,000 strokes per year, while elite swimmers take 800,000 strokes and more. It is important that every one of those strokes be as efficient as possible.

This is why races are won and lost in the practice pool.