In the pursuit of perfection, some of the best swimmers in the world have changed their technique – especially when they head to college with a new coach. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t.
World Record holder Katie Ledecky did it when she went to Stanford, and now Olympic medalist Bella Sims seems to be undergoing a similar transition in her freshman year at the University of Florida.
Her 500 free win at the Georgia Invite last week revealed a much more galloping stroke than we’ve seen from her in the past.
A technique that was really popularized by Michael Phelps and his coach Bob Bowman in the 2000s, it was for a time the standard for longer freestyle races. The technique has become more debated lately, with some swimmers using it to differing degrees, but with most swimmers moving away from the most aggressive version that Phelps used to set World Records.
And while Sims isn’t quite galloping at a Phelpsian level, it’s definitely more pronounced than it was when she was training with Ron Aitken and the Sandpipers of Nevada in high school. Before, her stroke was fairly flat, without much dive at the end, now she has a much more visible up and down motion to her stroke.
The technique was good enough for a win in Georgia in 4:32, though that was well-shy of her personal best of 4:28.64 that makes her the third-best performer in the history of the event.
The end of the season will be a more telling evaluation of the new technique, though the mystery of faith in swimming is that we’ll never know what would have been (especially for female distance swimmers entering the late teens).
The head coach at Florida Anthony Nesty is viewed as one of the top distance coaches in the world and his stable includes the likes of 800/1500 double Olympic gold medalist Bobby Finke, plus the aforementioned Ledecky who moved to Florida in the last few years.
Sims’ New Technique (4th from the top):
Sims’ Old Technique (2nd from the bottom, closest to the screen in many shots):