Chinese swimmer Sun Yang came home from the 2017 World Aquatics Championships with two more individual gold medals, bringing his career total at that meet to 9.
In the leadup to the meet in Budapest, Hungary, Sun said that he was tweaking his start for the meet.
Sun, for all of his efficiency and masterful catch in the water, swims more like an age grouper in a lot of his technical details. He triple breathes into walls (even if you accept double-breathing, a triple breath seems unnecessary), and his start has historically looked more like that of an 8 & under still working on body control than that of a World Record holding swimmer.
His start still wasn’t great in Budapest, but it was an improvement over what we’ve seen in the past. His reaction time was a .75, which isn’t too out-of-line with most of the swimmers in his best event the 400 free, and exactly the same as it was at the 2015 World Championships in Kazan.
In Budapest, much as he was in Rio a year earlier, Sun was effectively the last swimmer to 15 meters off the start. Based on a hand-time (by me), though, he was about 4-tenths of a second better to that mark in budapest than he was in Rio.
With regard to technique, the most noticeable difference is that Sun now has his head down further immediately before the start. Previously he would be looking out toward the water, but he’s instead now looking slightly back toward the block.
His motion off the block also appears slightly more powerful and athletic, though his legs still split in the air and he still looks like he’s on the verge of go upside-down with his legs flipping over his head as he hits the water.
While the start is viewed as far less significant in distance races than it is in sprints, if his new start puts him at the 15 meter line four-tenths of a second sooner consistently, then that is impactful – especially as he’s now honed in on the 200 and the 400 free, where four-tenths usually matters more than it does in the 1500.
But the changes to his start, while noticeable, aren’t a dramatic overhaul that it truly needs. So, for now, Sun will have to continue to rely on his incredible body position and ultra efficient catch and cycle.
See a series of images below, taken by Mike Lewis, highlighting some of these points.