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.
For Yulia Efimova, 2016 is an odd mix of redemption and title defense.
In 2015, Efimova won the World Championships gold medal in the 100 breaststroke making her the reigning champ who needs to maintain momentum. But in the 200 breaststroke, an unfocused morning swim left her 17th, outside of the semifinals and out of medal contention in an event she very well could have won – a situation that now puts her in the role of redemption-seeker.
The two roles coexist without really meshing in the story of Efimova’s 2016 season. But whatever narrative Efimova is a part of at the moment, her swimming is succeeding.
Efimova was one of the stars of last week’s Arena Pro Swim Series at Orlando, winning both the 100 and 200 breast.
Her 100 was a 1:05.70, the top time in the world this season and just hundredths off her gold medal time from last summer’s World Championships.
The 200, meanwhile, was a 2:21.41, the world’s second-best time and a swim that would have won gold at last year’s World Champs.
But the truly interesting part about Efimova’s big weekend is that her success is coming without a really noticeable departure from the mistake that doomed her 2015 season in the 200 – a full-strength morning effort.
Efimova has a prelims tendency that is as dangerous as it is unique. The Russian tends to take out her morning races extremely slowly before nearly negative-splitting her race as a whole. “Negative split” is a swimming term meaning a swimmer’s second half split is actually faster than their first half. It’s a hard goal to accomplish, nearly impossible in race-pace breaststroke or butterfly.
It was that strategy that kept Efimova out of finals at Worlds in the 200; she went 1:12.2 in her first 100 and 1:13.9 in her second. (Compare that to the top swimmers in the field, who went out in about 1:09s and returned in roughly 1:14s).
And instead of abandoning it, Efimova put in into play again in Orlando. In prelims of the 100, she split 33.7/34.2 before switching to a more typical 31.3/34.3 margin for finals. In the 200, she was 1:13.8/1:14.3 in the morning before going 1:10.0/1:11.3 in finals.
Of course, Orlando was no World Championships – Efimova still made the A finals by wide margins in both races. But as the season progresses and the meets get bigger, it will be an interesting subplot to watch how Efimova chooses to attack her prelims swims in the leadup to Rio.
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