PVC Technical Strategy 74


Originally published in Fastlane4  by Sebastian Schwenke

When a new athlete enters the world stage of swimming and performs exceptionally well, the competition tries to figure out the newcomer’s secret. Rivals will analyze the swimmer’s every move, trying to figure out what makes him or her so much faster and why no one can get ahead.

These days, all eyes are on Caeleb Dressel. In the US, he’s been a famous sprinting phenomenon since his teenage years. But thanks to his performances at the 2016 Olympics and 2017 World Championships, where he won seven gold medals, his name is now well known in the rest of the swimming world as well.

This is what normally happens when Caeleb Dressel races: He jumps in, comes up at the 15m mark, and is already half a length ahead. Then he sprints to the wall, turns, and kicks away from his competition, gaining such an advantage that no one is able to catch up to him until the end of the race.

The 21-year-old’s abilities at the start, his underwater skills, and his push of the wall are on a whole new level. Jürgen Küchler and Jens Graumnitz, sports scientists from the Institute for Applied Training Sciences (IAT) in Leipzig, Germany even have the data to prove it. According to their statistics, “during the 50m freestyle and 50m butterfly finals at the 2017 World Championships in Budapest, he [Dressel] has was the first swimmer ever to be faster than five seconds on the first 15m of the race.”

During the 50m freestyle final, Dressel swam the first 15m in 4.96 seconds, which was already 3.2 tenths faster than silver medalist Bruno Fratus from Brazil. This is almost impossible to catch up on the remaining 35m at this level. At the end of the race in 21.27 seconds Bruno Fratus was still twelve hundredths of a second slower than Dressel. This also means, however, that between 15 and 50m, Fratus could gain a total of two tenths of a second on Dressel. As you can see: Caeleb Dressel is not necessarily the fastest swimmer, but rather the best jumper and one of the best kickers.

The race data from the 2017 World Championships:

name / nation  event split times in seconds
react. air 5 m 15 m 25 m 50 m
Dressel / USA 50F 0,62 0,56 1,28 4,96 9,46 21,15
Fratus / BRA 50F 0,67 0,48 1,32 5,28 9,66 21,27
Proud / GBR 50F 0,64 0,52 1,28 5,14 9,72 21,43
Proud / GBR 50B 0,63 0,50 1,24 5,12 10,10 22,75
Dressel / USA 50 B (SF) 0,62 0,54 1,28 4,92 9,98 22,76
Santos / BRA 50 B 0,62 0,58 1,34 5,14 10,06 22,79

Data source: Institute for Applied Training Sciences (IAT) Leipzig

“The basis for his superiority in the starting section is a high kinetic energy at the end of the jump,” according to the IAT scientists analysis. “Dressel uses the possibilities for accelerating his body to a maximum degree, flies very fast at high speed, dives in with minimized resistance and can counteract a drop in speed with highly propulsive dolphin kicks during the transition to the stroke.”

During the 100m freestyle final at the World Championships, Dressel was twice able to put his kicking skills to a use. At the 15m mark after the start, he already had a half-second advantage over Olympic champion Nathan Adrian, even though Dressel’s kicks were less intense than in the 50m race. That means he was much faster than his competitors and could still save his energy for the second half of the race.

The situation was similar at the turn: After the push-off, Dressel had the longest underwater phase of the field. Since the dolphin kicks are one of his great strengths, he can achieve very high speeds with relatively little effort. “He also saves energy [using this method], especially in the area of the upper extremities that he can put to use at the end of the race in order to counteract a drop in speed,” the IAT scientists say. As he had more power reserves left for the last few meters, Caeleb Dressel was able to achieve the highest speed among the medal winners at the end of the 100m freestyle final.

name / nation event split times in seconds
react. air 5 m 15 m 25 m 50 m 100m
Dressel / USA 100F 0,64 0,56 1,32 5,10 9,80 22,31 47,17
Adrian / USA 100F 0,68 0,56 1,34 5,60 10,38 22,97 47,87
Dressel / USA 100 B 0,64 0,54 1,26 5,16 10,36 23,31 49,86
Milak / HUN 100 B 0,68 0,52 1,38 5,60 10,76 23,85 50,62

Data source: Institute for Applied Training Sciences (IAT) Leipzig

Dressel’s strengths are no coincidence. Already as a child he showed an extraordinary jumping ability, an advantage that he further developed in later years via a purposeful strength and technique training. Of course, the outstanding start and kicking abilities are just part of the secret behind the fast times of Caeleb Dressel. His stroke is world-class and his ability to race several times at the highest level in one day is comparable to the young Michael Phelps. Although his skills as a sprinter were recognized early on, his coaches were keen to make sure his training expanded beyond that. Instead of only practicing short 3km sets with additional strength training, his programs usually covered more than 5km, as is often the case with middle distance specialists. He’s a well-rounded athlete precisely because of this varied youth training.

This spring in the yard pool, Caeleb Dressel continued to test his limits. At the NCAA championships, he delivered times that suggest that he could soon lift the world of sprint swimming into new dimensions. 20 seconds over 50m freestyle, something only achieved in “rubber” swim suits during the high-tech era, never seemed as likely to appear again as they do now – in the Dressel era.

Picture: Alibek Käsler

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