In 2012 Florent Manaudou was a rocket ship in more ways than one. He won the 50 freestyle at the Olympics, of course, blowing past the field in the second half of the race to victory. The swim also matched a rocket-like ascendance for Manaudou, who entered the Olympic year far from a contender for gold.
Since then, Manaudou has proved been pretty spectacular. However, his one blemish in major international competition since London was the 2013 World Championships. Despite leading the way through the preliminaries and heats, Manaudou finished a puzzling 5th in the final.
One of the things that has made Manaudou so dominant has been not only his top end speed but his dominant start. However, looking back at the 2012 Olympic final, Manaudou was not the best swimmer off the blocks. It is clear that Manaudou has made a concerted effort to improve his start technically and given himself a significant leg up in the shortest swimming race. Let’s go to video, first of 2012:
We get a great shot of Manaudou, in lane 7, second closest to the camera. The start is around 2:50. In this start he is going head to head with the world’s best starter at the time, Roland Schoeman. Manaudou has a very curved back and poor posture before the gun goes off. Actually a shocking number of elite swimmers use poor posture when standing on the block.
The posture does not work well with Manaudou’s aggressive stance- he is leaning onto his front foot perhaps more than any other swimmer in the race- he looks as if he is about to fall in. One thing that Manaudou has always done well is on full display in this start- he has the fastest hands in the entire field. Rather than make an exaggerated press back like Schoeman, he gets his hands out front and brings his momentum forward.
Schoeman and Manaudou are the last two to break the surface, but they haven’t made the best of all that time underwater. In fact Manaudou are just a bit behind Cullen Jones at this point in the race. You might be saying “that’s not bad”, but take a look at what a mockery Manaudou has made of the competition in 50m races since then.
First, let’s take a look at the disappointing swim in 2013. The start has already started to take shape. Manaudou can only blame his swimming on top of the water for the disappointing result:
The start gets underway at around 2:30. Notice the change in posture on the blocks. This allows Manaudou to have the second best reaction time in the heat. Its is generally harder for the larger swimmers to react fast off the block, yet Manaudou is only best in reaction time by the relatively smaller Roland Schoeman and Vladimir Morozov. The improved posture also means he hits the water on a better line- look how much less disturbance he creates on entry in comparison to Adrian swimming directly above him.
By 2014, Manaudou pretty much had the kinks worked out of his start. Watching video of his win in that summers European Championship, the race was pretty much over at 15m:
One of the underrated aspects of a dominant start is how much it impacts the later part of the race. When Manaudou’s start was only marginally better or the same as his field, he still had to deal with the wake of the surrounding the swimmers disturbing his stroke down the length of the pool. When, as in the clip above, Manaudou nails the start, he can effectively swim in open water the rest of the way, a huge advantage in top level competitive sprinting.
Although it’s hard to find quality footage, and the camera cuts away in crucial early going, you can see how much of an advantage he got from his start in Kazan:
As a bonus, here’s a good fan angle showing his superior posture, drive forward and entry into the water:
Great techniques have a habit of getting mimicked in our sport. If Manaudou can perform another devastating start and win in Rio, look for many coaches to start teaching his form in the aftermath.