Disclaimer: BlueSeventy Swim of the Week is not meant to be a conclusive selection of the best overall swim of the week, but rather one Featured Swim to be explored in deeper detail. The BlueSeventy Swim is an opportunity to take a closer look at the context of one of the many fast swims this week, perhaps a swim that slipped through the cracks as others grabbed the headlines, or a race we didn’t get to examine as closely in the flood of weekly meets.
If there’s one American swimmer who has been absolutely on fire for the past nine months, it’s breaststroker Cody Miller.
The Indiana grad and Badger Swim Club pro has been USA Swimming’s most unbeatable breaststroker since his first national title win last August.
In that race, the underdog Miller got under a minute for the first time in his career, using a stellar back half to move from 4th to 1st, overcoming 50 breast American record-breaker Brendan McHugh and short course American record-holder Kevin Cordes.
Since then, it’s been a stream of nearly-uninterrupted dominance for Miller. A silver and a bronze medal in the medley relays at Short Course Worlds. A breaststroke sweep of the Oklahoma City Pro Am, complete with a new American record in the 50. Another trip below a minute at the Orlando Pro Swim Series. Yet another win in the 100 at Charlotte.
And last weekend, the crowning achievement of the season so far: a new lifetime-best in the 100 breast, and the best time an American has put up since Brendan Hansen‘s Olympic swim in 2012.
The time was a 59.51, four tenths faster than Miller went in winning nationals last summer.
But the interesting piece about that swim isn’t the time Miller went, but how he got there.
Miller was devastatingly efficient, swimming with one of the lowest stroke counts you’ll see in any elite breaststrokers in the world right now. The 23-year-old took 16 strokes on the first 50 and just 20 in the back-half.
That’s an extremely low number, and it shows through in the race video, where Miller is noticeably longer and more relaxed than the rest of the pool while still building a lead in the early goings. That low stroke count allows the Badger swimmer to be fresh and dangerous near the end of the race, where he seems to increase his lead exponentially.
That’s not a one-time occurrence for Miller. In fact, looking back at video of his previous sub-minute swims, Miller had the exact same stroke count as his 2014 national championship, and he was actually even longer at the Orlando Pro Swim Series, taking 15 down and 19 back.
Compare those numbers to Great Britain’s Adam Peaty, the recent world record-setter and the world’s best breaststroker. Peaty is on the other extreme of the spectrum, taking 20 strokes on the way out and a rapid-fire 26 on his return length. (You can watch video of Peaty’s race here).
What’s interesting is to see two different breaststrokers playing to their own strengths. Miller’s low stroke count is partially a function of his underwaters, which have long been a strong point. Peaty (at least in his world record swim) tends to come up earlier, maximizing his speed on top of the water, which is unmatched. You can check this out visually in the screenshots from the right – the angles are obviously askew, but comparing Peaty’s world record to Miller’s lifetime-best does show a noticeable difference in underwater distance.
At the same time, Miller elects to be long and efficient in his opening 50, storing up energy to accelerate into his finish – he looks much like a 200 breaststroker swimming down to the 100. Peaty, meanwhile, makes his stroke all about raw power, turning over quickly and jumping out to a big lead and open water. The Brit appears to ride right on the razor’s edge of spinning through his stroke cycles at the end of the race, but has enough momentum banked up to keep surging forward.
One of the running rivalries internationally is the looming medley relay showdown between the Americans and the British. The event has been the U.S.’s to lose for years now, but a devastating front-half from the British makes them among the most serious contenders in years, led by Peaty’s otherworldly dominance.
But the rise of Cody Miller gives the Americans a new potential hope. Though Kevin Cordes has traditionally manned the spot (and had a great split at Pan Pacs last summer), he’s been plagued by inconsistency so far in his young career, and has also been very quiet all year long, while Miller has flashed dominance nearly every time he’s competed.
If it does turn out to be Miller on the American medley relay in Kazan, the U.S. will hope his cool efficiency is enough to limit the damage Peaty can do on the relay, leaving the red, white and blue within striking distance with their clearly-dominant flyers and freestylers.
Either way, Miller is suddenly the front-runner among what is a deep class of American breaststrokers, setting up a battle for Olympic roster spots that should be nothing if not entertaining.
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