Emilie Hoeper, Mason Manta Rays Swim Coach, contributed to this report.
We can all agree that Michael Phelps is one, if not the, greatest swimmer of all time. And it goes without question that the entire swimming community is beyond excitement for his comeback to begin at Mesa on Thursday.
But one of the more interesting questions that I am sure most of you are asking is, what level of THE Michael Phelps will we see down in Mesa? His training has been under the radar, so we will see where he is at once he puts on his racing suit since London 2012.
We wanted to take a statistical, “coaching eye” standing point to analyze Phelps. There are many layers to the onion that is Phelps top physical form; for example, with Beijing 2008 being at the core, and 2011 Shanghai or 2010 Pan Pacs in the middle, let’s say. Between me and my co worker, Emilie Hoeper, we went to videos to break down Phelps by the numbers. We know Phelps is swimming the 50 and 100 freestyle and 100 butterfly at Mesa, so we just looked at his 100 butterfly and 100 freestyle races for some numbers.
Let’s go over what we looked at:
RT = Reaction time off the blocks
Stroke Count = Butterfly – One stroke; Freestyle – One cycle (two strokes)
*Average Stroke Rate = Time it takes to complete one stroke — then we took that total off all the strokes and divided it by the stroke count of that lap
Splits = 50 times within the race
Final Time = Overall finishing time
|Stroke Count – 1st 50||16||16|
|Stroke Count – 2nd 50||18||19|
|Average Stroke Rate – 1st 50||1.2/stroke||1.2/stroke|
|Average Stroke Rate – 2nd 50||1.2/stroke||1.15/stroke|
|Stroke Count – 1st 50||14||13.5|
|Stroke Count – 2nd 50||15||15|
|Average Stroke Rate – 1st 50||1.3/cycle||1.3/cycle|
|Average Stroke Rate – 2nd 50||1.25/cycle||1.2/cycle|
There was an interview Emilie and I had seen from Bob Bowman speaking about stroke count with Michael Phelps. It probably is the one core piece that Bowman beats in Phelps head. That is why he was able to swim the 200 butterfly pretty much blind in 2008 and come out with a win. And this piece is backed up statistically. Phelps stroke count, freestyle or butterfly, is on point, regardless of the level of shape that he may be in.
Also note, that 19th stroke in Beijing was the winning-by-.01 stroke over Milorad Cavic.
So stroke count doesn’t seem to be the big difference maker with Phelps. Perhaps, it is a power per stroke element. There is a very slight difference in his stroke rate in Beijing to Shanghai, which could be the difference maker in the few tenths difference between the two races. In Beijing his rate was just about .05 faster per cycle or stroke on the back half of his sprints. Keeping that his stroke number was consistent, he much be accelerating the water underneath him faster and more efficiently than in Shanghai, perhaps.
What I am interested to see in Mesa is mainly his stroke count. Can Phelps be at that “magical” number of 16 down/18 back in the butterfly and 14 down/15 back in the freestyle after some time away from the pool. He has so much swimming in his tool box, I bet he will be able to pick up right where he left off in that respect. Though, I bet his stroke rate will be much slower down in Mesa.
If Phelps opts for the 50 butterfly instead of the 50 free, I bet well see about 16 strokes in that lap, but with a higher rate like in his second 50 in his 100.
The film we looked at didn’t give us much a chance to look at his underwater counts. But we will be looking at this weekend as well. Phelps is known for going further than another else, easily 12.5 meters off turning walls.
Outside of the numbers we can look at, Phelps is just a rare specimen even technically. His butterfly is the epitome of what you try to teach your swimmers. You look for your swimmers to grab the water out far in front of their shoulders and hold and accelerate the water all the way straight back. His acceleration plus the kick exiting into the recovery is unmatched, as when you watch Phelps in the recover piece of his butterfly looks effortless; his face even looks relaxed.
Then on his freestyle, Phelps does have a very notable “gallop”. He only breathes to his right, but he digs his left arm so deeply into the catch it presses him up and out producing that gallop motion. He used to breathe every stroke, and I don’t see that changing either in Mesa this weekend.
Then again, these are all numbers we can use to take a closer look at Michael Phelps. He is very consistent, from the meets his wins 8 gold medals at, to the meets where he considered a bit “off his game”. But even when he’s not in the 8 gold medal form, statistically Phelps is on point.
*Editor Note: Stroke Rate could possibly be a bit off; we did our best with YouTube videos on our computer and projected onto TVs to get the most accurate data