Coach’s Eye: Anton Chupkov’s Superman Pullouts


Elite swimmers are trying to destroy every habit you’ve worked so hard to instill in your athletes for generations.

First, Sun Yang and Katie Ledecky, the two fastest distance freestylers in history, both started double breathing (and sometimes triple breathing) into their turns en route to World Records. Then Ye Shiwen broke the 400 IM World Record without doing any kicks or pullouts on the breaststroke leg underwater.

And now, Russian 200 breaststroke World Champion Anton Chupkov has ‘Supermanned’ his way to World Championship gold.

On Friday in Budapest, Chupkov became the first Russian to ever win the 200 breaststroke World Championship, taking top honors in 2:06.96 – a new European Record and the second-best time in history. While doing so, he had his hands spread prior to his breaststroke pull out, though only on the turns walls, colloquially known as the “superman” position, rather than together in a tight, theoretically more hydrodynamic streamline. In a stroke where quantity of propulsion opportunities are so relatively limited that we’ve all been trained that reducing drag is the most important thing, he opted to spread his hands in a counter-intuitive position.

Looking at the stroke, in a former coaches technical eye, it comes down to this thought for me—do you reduce drag in the stroke by pushing off in that “streamline” position then move into your pullout or do you reduce drag pushing off in a “superman” position and basically be in the pullout beginning position?

Let’s take a look at a breaststroke pullout. Typically we teach swimmers to move from a streamline position, to a superman position, to then initiate the pull down motion. In that initial streamline position, that is where to do that dolphin kick, as we have come to learn that having a separate kicking and pulling motion reduce drags. For those that have been around the sport for a bit, not too many years ago, swimmers would dolphin kick and pull down at the same time.

So with that knowledge of that skill in our mind, I go back to that thought—do you produce less drag in the breaststroke pullout by beginning in streamline, dolphin kicking, and then moving into the pull down, or by just starting right in superman streamline and initiating the dolphin kick from there?

The more I sit here and think about it, sometimes technical skills benefit the  athlete when taking away components. Some athletes get too rushed by multiple technical elements, in a short time frame, and in do all parts sloppy. And the breaststroke pullout is a technically complicated component in a short amount of time within the stroke. This could be something Chupkov struggled with. In efforts to simplify the skill, he just gets right to it with a superman streamline. And to be perfectly honest, he doesn’t really seem to lose much ground coming off the wall in such fashion.

What I think is interesting though, is that Chupkov only does this adjustment on  turn walls; he initiates his pulldown the typical way off the start. Unfortunately due to camera angles, I can’t really tell if his traditional pullout seems better or worse than his turn ones. But it’s worth to note that he made the decision that a streamline off the start reduces drag for him, while off the turn, it does not.

This sort of technical difference of Chupkov from the norm reminds me a lot the top arm breakout in freestyle and backstroke when I was coaching. I would implement it on some athletes, and some I would not. Some benefitted from it, while some did not. And then on the big scheme of the sport, it is a technical aspect where you sometimes see it, but not a majority of athletes do it. These type of technical deviances are something you work on in the later part of your career, where any sort of technical advantage for you is necessary.

But that is my opinion. Maybe we will move in a direction of teaching age groupers to push off in superman for the short axis strokes—breaststroke and butterfly— since that is the position the stroke is initiated from. Perhaps that could simply teach some skills to younger swimmers. I know I spent hours of my club coaching and camp instruction going over TIGHT streamlines.

But that is exactly why we watch what the best do. They constantly are innovating our sport, and challenging the norms to break the barriers.


You can watch the video of Chupkov’s race below, courtesy of NBC Olympic. The best views of his pullouts from underwater come right around the 3:00 mark.

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3 years ago

I know him leaving his cross on is for his personal religious reasons but you’d think it’d get really annoying after a while right?

Reply to  JUST SAYIN
3 years ago

Not that the other guys met the Pope but he’s saying – I don’t need no God’s rep on earth , I got the real cross .

Reply to  JUST SAYIN
3 years ago

Annoying to who?

Reply to  Carlo
3 years ago

Annoying to wear with it bouncing around during the race

Reply to  iLikePsych
3 years ago

I decided a long time ago that I did not want to fiddle with the clasp every time in and out of the pool, so I have been leaving my cross on while swimming. I only notice it occasionally during backstroke. On any front stroke, as far as I can tell, it’s not noticeable.

Reply to  Carlo
3 years ago

SwimSwam commenters, apparently.

3 years ago

I think it was the 100m free in Athens where Ian Thorpe can be see pushing off walls in a semi superman(hands are not interlocked). This was back when Dara Torres was on the mic…

Steve Nolan
3 years ago

Caitlin Leverenz used to streamline with her hands separated. Just was something that worked better for her.

For the most part though…get those hands together, kiddos.

About Amanda Smith

Amanda Smith is a former swimmer at both Indiana and USC, where she earned a total of nine All-American honors at the NCAA Championships. Smith, a middle-distance specialist as a swimmer, was also 3-time USC School Record holder, a 2012 NCAA Woman of the Year nominee, and an Olympic Trials …

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