With the Pan Pacific Championships roster announced for Japan, you may want to take a closer look at one of the nation’s 200 flyers who may potentially take on the likes of Jack Conger, Chase Kalisz or Tom Shields on his home turf of Tokyo. Waseda University’s Yuya Yajima fired off a super quick time of 1:54.72 to take gold at this year’s Japan Open, notching his spot ahead of Olympian Masato Sakai on Japan’s Pan Pac line-up. Splitting 54.94/1:00.78, Yajima’s time of 1:54.72 ranks as the 6th-fastest swimmer in the world this season.
In the case of Yajima, however, his stroke technique warrants a second glance more so than his times, even as fast as they are. We’ve analyzed his ‘dolphin dive-esque’ mechanics previously, as on-lookers can’t help but take note of Yajima’s heavily elongated glide at the front end of his stroke. In 2015, his paused butterfly helped win him a silver medal at that year’s World University Games.
Even before that, however, Yajima was perfecting his stretched-out stroke, challenging America’s Andrew Seliskar for Junior Pan Pacific gold back in 2014. In the video below, watch how Yajima (lane 5) extends his glide prior to initiating his pull and contrast that to next-door Seliskar’s immediate pull upon entry (lane 4). As a result, Yajima’s stroke count follows 14-15-15-16 pattern, while Seliskar’s race followed a 17-19-19-21 pattern. Seliskar wound up winning by a hefty margin, beating Yajima 1:55.92 to 1:58.30.
Studying Yajima’s stroke as it appears underwater gives us insight into how the kicking works with a paused stroke. As opposed to the more traditional two fly kicks that are performed as the hands enter, as well as when the hands exit, Yajima’s kicks are timed quite differently.
In the video below from the 2016 Japan Swim, Yajima is seen kicking his hands in at entry, but he completes his 2nd kick while his arms are still out front. As his arms pass his hips, the bottom half of his body acts as one unit, with no additional kick undulation until his arms re-enter the water. This action produces the true ‘dolphin-dive’ look, with Yajima winding up deeper in the water than those swimmers next to him. His stroke counts again were in the 14-15 range per 50, while his competitors were nearer to 19-20 per 50.
For Yajima, his stroke appears to fall within the FINA rulebook for butterfly, but he teeters on the edge specifically for FINA rule SW8.5. The rule reads:
At the start and at turns, a swimmer is permitted one or more leg kicks and one arm pull
under the water, which must bring him to the surface. It shall be permissible for a swimmer to be
completely submerged for a distance of not more than 15 metres after the start and after each turn.
By that point, the head must have broken the surface. The swimmer must remain on the surface until
the next turn or finish.
There may be a point in his stroke which renders Yajima completely underwater, which goes against the ‘must remain on the surface’ note of the fly stroke description. He was DQd in 2016 for this offense, but has since been able to compete successfully without penalty.
Additionally, this elongated fly works for Yajima in the 200m distance, however, he’s yet to crack the 53-second barrier in the 100m fly using this same technique.