Rio 2016: Women's 200m Freestyle Race - a Data-driven Look at How Katie Ledecky Won
Every race is exciting when it comes to swimming, right? But what if we could dive deeper than just...
The ever exciting world championships has come to a close. With many new records set and new players clutching key medals, it is a great opportunity for everyone to take a moment to understand just what goes into all of these outstanding performances. Lets explore some of the most valueable lessons learned over the course of this event.
Throughout the week long swimming portion of the event, TritonWear was busy analyzing the standout races each and every day. Using our technology, we were able to compile the data for these races to glean insights everyone can use when training next season. We did our best to get a cross section of different disciplines by different groups, so we could analyze as many different swimmers as possible, and provide learnings across all of the strokes. Here we have compiled the distilled list of learnings which came up over and over again, specific to selecting a race strategy, metrics specific ah-ha moments, and some of the tactics we saw being used repeatedly that worked well.
The first thing that stood out was race strategy. Throughout the 8 days, and 9 races analyzed, repeatedly we saw completely contrasting strategies in the pool. It is important to note every strategy requires a balance of stroke rate, speed and DPS, can shift throughout longer races, and is a very personal decision a coach and athlete must analyze carefully, all points we saw very clearly in the men’s 400 freestyle. When selecting a strategy, it is paramount stamina is there to support both going out strong enough to stay with the front runners, and retaining enough energy to bring it home at the end, as we saw in the women’s 200 freestyle. Three were 3 distinct iterations we kept discovering.
Some swimmers used a faster stroke rate, higher stroke count, shorter DPS strategy. This worked well for those who had built substantial endurance, enabling them the to have the energy to bring it home. It doesn’t natively carry speed though, so you have to be high energy to carry this strategy for anything longer than a 50m race. Swimmers using this strategy typically held their positions better, provided it was considered strategy which played to their strengths. If considering this strategy, focus on maintaining endurance to sustain the stroke rate, knowing when to slow it down using stronger strokes, and balancing the speed with enough energy reserves for the burst to close the race.
The second strategy we saw was to utilize a slower stroke rate, lower stroke count, and a longer DPS. This approach allows the athlete to get more distance from each stroke, which in turn allows them to more easily generate speed, for a better stroke efficiency, conserving energy. To use this strategy, an athlete must be able to maintain stroke index throughout the race, or they will lose momentum. The key focal points of a longer, stronger strategy is being able to complement it with producing speed from the slower stroke rate by increasing the DPS.
The third iteration was a combination of these two, where the athletes would use mid-frequency, stronger yet still fast stroke style. This approach we saw mostly in the younger or less experienced swimmers, and typically finished in the middle to end of the field. It was less efficient than the longer stronger approach, but didn’t require quite the stamina of the faster shorter approach. Employing this strategy works best if you are in the midst of building either your endurance for a faster paced race, or your strength for a longer stroke swimming style.
With so many races analyzed, there was just a ton of data we could pull from, some of it contradictory, based on an athlete’s chosen strategy paired with their skill level and native swimming style. We have pulled out the learnings which aren’t immediately apparent without having the data to sift through.
First we looked at stroke efficiency, which is a measure of speed times distance per stroke, with a cycle multiplier applied (times 1 for breast and fly, and times 2 for free and back). The men's and Women’s 100 fly showed us the higher it is, the more energy is conserved throughout the race, enabling a strong finish. The women’s 100 fly also showed us that sometimes the most technically efficient stroke sometimes registers the slowest speed, when it's not the right strategy for the athlete. Finally, we saw very clearly in the men's 200 IM, during the backstroke, that the stroke index metric is useless if speed doesn’t compliment strong strokes.
When we look at speed, we saw again in the men’s 100 fly, that speed driven by a high DPS allows the athlete to conserve more energy for finishing power. We also recognized that sometimes it makes sense to lower the DPS slightly while increasing stroke rate to increase speed, again a revelation realized during the men’s 100 fly event.
Stroke count and DPS are all typically interrelated, so we will look at them as a group. First, we noted in the women’s 100 breast race that a strong stroke, couple with a good DPS is only valuable if the athlete is producing the speed to match. The men’s 400 freestyle showed us sometimes there is value in reducing DPS, during a longer race, but when doing so you must increase stroke count in order to maintain the speed. The women’s 50 breast suggested lowering stroke count while maintaining stroke rate increases efficiency.
Stroke rate had more of the contradictory results, given it is a main factor in the opposing strategies at play throughout the week. During the women’s 100 fly the fastest stroke lacked speed. The women’s 100 breast race revealed a faster stroke rate can be helpful if an athlete is seeing lower returns in DPS. several of the races highlighted stroke rate increases must be accompanied by maintaining efficiency and DPS - or at the very least not dropping as much as competitors. Finally, to conserve energy the women’s 100 back suggested building or maintaining speed, without increasing stroke rate, and the women’s 50 breast suggested maintaining stroke rate, while increasing DPS, is key to increasing efficiency.
Its well known that good starts, turns and finishes can make or break a race, so here are the findings to help perfect these components of a race. First, the women’s 100 fly and breast showed us that substantially longer under-waters can help compensate for lower DPS, or help offset a fast stroke rate with slower speed. Spending more time underwater saves energy by reducing the need to increase stroke count throughout the length, as seen in the men’s 100 fly. By contrast it can also be said, shorter underwater times results in a higher stroke count, and thereby lower stroke efficiency, a point made clear in the women’s 50 breast race. Several athletes displayed the value in lengthening breakouts to conserve energy and lose less speed, in freestyle, fly and back races alike.
Repeatedly throughout the 9 races analyzed, we saw the same tactics being employed by the stars of the event. We saw many athletes get ahead by increasing DPS, while maintaining stroke count. While some were able to edge the competition by increasing stroke count while maintaining speed. In the longer races the winners increased speed through middle lengths, while maintaining high stroke count, to build a buffer between them and the rest of the field. In high energy sprint races like the 100 fly we saw athletes taking more strokes in quicker succession, but offsetting this with efficient turns and starts, allowing them to build more speed, to maintain efficiency. Finally, in the women’s 200 freestyle we saw Pellegrini overtake Ledecky by reducing her stroke rate and increasing her stroke count while maintaining power in DPS.
In summary, it is clear every athlete must carefully reflect on their personal metrics to determine the strategy which will best complement their unique strengths and weaknesses. Using a technology like TritonWear makes this a much easier task, as all of the data is collected automatically, and displayed in easy to interpret graphs and charts. Getting away from the collection of data allows coaches and athletes to spend more time focused on making improvements, as the areas of weakness are easily spotted through reflecting on data collected over time.
Learn more through various case studies, about how you can use data to improve your training and optimize your race strategy, in this white paper download. Or subscribe to our Knowledge Hub to receive content straight to your inbox.
With 12+ years in sales and marketing and over 20 in competitive swimming, Katie brings a wealth of knowledge to direct both the Marketing and Sales teams at TritonWear. Her strategic guidance helps the teams position TritonWear as a solution to many of the most prominent concerns affecting the competitive swimming community today.