Some sharp-eyed viewers on Twitter noticed an evolution of underwater kicking technique in one of the world’s best underwater kickers.
Credit to @kimagureswimmer, @Swimcast_de and @Propulsion_Swim on Twitter for their thread pointing out these interesting observations.
The big development: Caeleb Dressel appeared to be one of the last swimmers in the Olympic men’s 50 free final to start underwater dolphin kicking.
That’s very interesting, as Dressel is also consistently one of the best underwater kickers on the planet, and outkicked that Olympic field though the seemingly-backwards strategy of waiting longer to start kicking.
Look at this underwater @SwimNerds @pullbuoy @Propulsion_Swim @Braden_Keith where everyone else is kicking right after entry and Caeleb's waiting until he's in horizontal position. https://t.co/3pi04d481Y
— SWIMCAST (@Swimcast_de) August 3, 2021
On a closer look, though, the strategy does make sense. Considering that even the fastest swimmers are at their absolute fastest the moment they enter the water off the start, Dressel is actually prioritizing that max speed by holding a better bodyline and reducing drag right away.
Underwater dolphin kicking is the fastest way to swim, but even for a superstar like Dressel, it’s still not as fast as the speed carried off an explosive start. And underwater dolphin kicking is a tradeoff of sorts, with an athlete leaving a perfect bodyline and taking on a little bit more drag, in exchange for the extra propulsion from the kicks.
Dressel, essentially, is delaying that tradeoff until he’s carried a bit more of his speed off the blocks. You can see him get into a great, horizontal body-line almost right away, and he holds that minimal-drag position for a split second, until he loses enough speed to justify the drag-for-power tradeoff of underwater dolphin kicking.
This is far from a novel strategy. In fact, it’s probably better described as more evidence of a growing trend in sprinting. One other example: Arizona State assistant coach Herbie Behm (@SirHerb_the3rd on Twitter) previously pointed out the same phenomenon in another great underwater kicker, Ryan Hoffer, at NCAAs:
Hoffer was the first to 15m but the last to start kicking. Nothing faster than a good streamline! pic.twitter.com/1JlHtOUhj3
— Herbie Behm (@SirHerb_the3rd) March 26, 2021
Another interesting note that came up in the same thread: @Propulsion_Swim noted that Dressel appeared to cut off his fly kicks a little earlier in this race compared to an earlier race video in which he extended his dolphin kicks even as his arms were starting the breakout phase:
Credit to Natacao Tecnica on YouTube for the race video in slow-mo below: