2019 SOUTHEASTERN CONFERENCE SWIMMING & DIVING CHAMPIONSHIPS
- Tuesday, February 19 – Saturday, February 23
- Gabrielsen Natatorium, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia (Eastern Time Zone)
- Defending Champion: Texas A&M (3x) (results)
- Live results
- Live Video – SEC Network
- Championship Central
Tennessee swimmer Nikol Popov only did 1 underwater pullout off 2 breaststroke walls in the team’s winning, and SEC Meet Record, 200 medley relay on Tuesday to open the SEC Championships. The sophomore, from Santa Clarita, California, is the Volunteers’ top breaststroker this season and split 26.68 on her leg of the relay – the 2nd-fastest of the field. Only Texas A&M junior Anna Belousova (26.33) was faster on that leg of the relay, and Popov was 1.3 seconds better than Kayla Jones, the breaststroker on Missouri’s 2nd-place relay.
Popov swam her split without a pullout: considered by most swimmers to be among the fastest part of a breaststroke swim.
Editor’s Note: for the unindoctrinated, the underwater pullout is the phase of swimming in breaststroke done off each turn or the start. By rules, swimmers can take one full stroke cycle, plus one additional dolphin kick, underwater before surfacing. Unlike the above-water stroke cycle, the underwater stroke cycle can include a pull all the way down past the swimmer’s hips, which gives it the opportunity to be the most powerful pull of any given length.
Instead, Popov did a full pullout off the start, but then off the turn did just a dolphin kick and then quickly surfaced.
There’s a better video on the SEC Network replay here for those with a login, but it can also be made out (sort of) in this video from Georgia swimming on YouTube, which is focused on the Georgia 200 medley relay. Popov can be seen at the very top of the screen in the white cap (4th from the bottom) at about the 1:55 mark. She’s taken 3 strokes before the rest of her competitors finish their pullouts.
On the WatchESPN replay, the fastest heat of the 200 medley relay begins at about the 47 minute mark, if you want a better view, here.
She’s not the first swimmer to experiment with this tactic, In fact, she’s not even the first Tennessee breaststroke to experiment with this tactic. Molly Hannis, a US National Teamer and member of the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team, skipped the underwater pullout on the final length of her 200 breaststroke at the Olympic Trials. Her last 50 split, without a pullout, was 36.1. Tennessee has also tested other unique underwater tactics, including the top-arm breakout in backstroke. Their backstroker, Meghan Small, appeared to use the top-arm breakout in moderation on the start, but not the turn, on Tuesday.
Popov also had a notably-higher stroke rate on the breaststroke than any of her competitors as well.
With Hannis, the trick was skipping the pullout on the last turn. This will be something to keep a eye on for Wednesday’s 200 IM, Friday’s 100 breast, and Saturday’s 200 breast to see how she approaches those underwaters.