Relay exchanges — every team does them, and every team is trying to perfect them. You want to hit the timing just right with the incoming swimmer, while also maximizing your take off to hit the water with more power and speed than your traditional start. A strong relay pick up, on average, can make a swimmers split up to .5-.7 faster than their actual best time.
You see all types of variations in swimming, especially at big meets like the NCAA Championships. Here is a quick list of some exchanges you may see at swim meets:
1. Two Step – Swimmers have both feet lined up back up on the blocks; they will step up, one foot at a time, to the edge of the block as they swing and take-off
2. Track Start One Step – Swimmer look like they are in a traditional track start, but in the relay take-off position; the swimmers will step up with one foot as they swing and take-off
3 & 4. Half Swing – This one can be done with either the foot positions above, but instead of a full arm swing, swimmer will swing arms just back, and not round in a circle as they take-off
5. Hop Jump – Swimmers have both feet back, and instead of stepping up, they will hop to the front as they swing to take-off
That’s just a brief list, but relay starts have gotten even more innovative since the block wedges have come into the game. Most of the time you will see a track start one step with these wedges, with the back foot propped against the wedge. The wedge give a bit stronger push and natural balance as the swimmer steps up into the swing and take-off.
But Texas, as we watched tonight, has offered a bit variation to this take-off with the wedge. From what I have also heard, the separately-coached Texas women and NC State men and women have been seen doing this variation as well. As you’ll see in the GIF below, the swimmers have both feet back, with one on the wedge and one BEHIND it. The swimmer then clears the wedge with the back foot and moves it to the front of the block, and takes off with a foot ON THE WEDGE. The end position the swimmers are in as they take off is like how they would be in their individual events; one foot up front, and one foot pushing off the wedge. There’s no windup with the arms either, the arms just hang and explode.
When looking at Texas’ wedge position in comparison to others, most teams have their wedge set to all the way back of the block. Texas’ was much more forward, I would guess about 2/3 back on the block. Obviously, this would take a lot of practice. You are asking the swimmer to step to the front of the block, and clear the wedge height in doing so. Texas is the home team here this week, so they have had plenty of time to perfect with these wedges.
But they maybe be onto something. As a swim coach, a comfortable reaction time is around ‘.15’ (that’s to me personally). Texas seems to be hitting that with tonight averaging .22 on their reaction times. Overall, this is vary interesting variation, utilizing the wedge in actual relay pick-up into the water, versus just the step up.
Below are two gifs, courtesy of our photographer Janna Schulze, who was all over these unique exchanges.