Stroke Analysis: Sakci vs. Van der Burgh 50 Breast World Record

Last week, Turkey’s Emri Sakci closed out 2021 with a bang, shattering Cameron van der Burgh’s 50 breast SCM World Record with a 24.95 and becoming the first man to break the 25 second barrier. The South African legend, who at one point simultaneously held the World Record in the 50 and 100 breast in both short course and long course, took to twitter to comment on Sakci’s achievement and the stroke’s evolution since he set his World Record in 2009. 

Sakci Race Video (24.95)

Van der Burgh Race Video (25.25)

Side by Side Comparison

When watching both races, it is clear that Sakci’s stroke is different from Van der Burgh’s, utilizing a higher tempo, more body-driven style to generate speed. As Van der Burgh alluded to, the style is not just 100% unique to Sakci, as several of the top sprint breaststrokers in the world now utilize a similar form, including men’s 100 SCM World Record holder Ilya Shymanovich of Belarus and American Molly Hannis, the second-fastest female SCY 100 breaststroker of all time. 

Throughout their international careers, these swimmers have been the subject of controversy, with fans (and SwimSwam comment sections) frequently invoking words like dolphin, butterfly and DQ after their races. Despite this, stroke infraction DQs are rare in international competition, though several breaststrokers were DQ’d at the recent SC Worlds (including Sakci), primarily related to downward dolphin kicks into and out of the walls that were caught on an underwater camera. 

So what has “changed” since van der Burgh’s World Record swim, where several swimmers now seemingly toe the line of legality to push the limits of the stroke? 

The first place to look is the hips. In the 2009 race, all of the swimmers’ hips, including van der Burgh’s, stay relatively steady at the surface when compared to Sakci’s 2021 race. Sacki utilizes more hip action to use his body as a propulsive tool, generating speed by lunging forward with his shoulders and chest, while allowing his hips to rise significantly as his hands shoot forward. The extra momentum generated by lunging with his whole upper body is maximized by his hip action, which allows the body to flow into the next stroke. 

That action is coupled with a small, fast kick that comes earlier in the stroke cycle than van der Burgh’s. In van der Burgh’s race, the kick timing comes slightly delayed, as the South African’s feet are still directly behind his body as he starts his breath, bringing his heels up quickly as he starts to shoot his hands forward. Comparatively Sakci’s kick starts slightly earlier, with his heels coming up during his breath. He then is able to pair his upper body lunge with his feet generating power, further taking advantage of his body-driven stroke.

The final motion is with his feet at the end of the kick, and where much of the controversy surrounding this style of breaststroke comes from. As a reminder, here is the FINA rule book verbiage on breaststroke kick:

  • SW 7.5 The feet must be turned outwards during the propulsive part of the kick. Alternating movements or downward butterfly kicks are not permitted except as in SW 7.1 [during the pullout]. Breaking the surface of the water with the feet is allowed unless followed by a downward butterfly kick. 

The nuance in this rule comes from the phrase “downward butterfly kick,” but makes no mention of upward movement of the feet. This is where swimmers have begun to use the rule to their advantage, as the added hip movement allows them to squeeze their feet below their body line, and then lift the feet up to come even with the body, thus creating the more body-drive, dolphin-like motion that fans and commentators have come to criticize. 

Interestingly, this style of breaststroke has been far more productive thus far in sprints and short course than in long course, as many of the world’s top 200 breaststrokers, including Arno Kamminga and Anton Chupkov, still employ a more “traditional” version of the stroke. 

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9 months ago

What I see is Sakci is riding high in the water. Compare his head during the end of his recovery against most of the rest of the field. By not going deep, he spends less time going up and down in the water without any tradeoff in his pull.

9 months ago

honestly the swim looked clean to me in the video, but perhaps an underwater view would have revealed something. Pushing the boundaries is totally fine IMO… how is it any different than coming as close as possible to a 15-meter mark without going over? Or two-hand turn that is, intentionally, only barellllyyyy a two-hand turn? It’s not cheating unless part of the strategy is explicitly that you never intend for it to be observable. I personally think that the dolphins off the start are a different beast than the on-the-fence technique mid pool. The former is blatantly deceitful, the latter seems like a fair-game (albeit risky) strategy to go close to the rules without breaking them, which is done constantly… Read more »

Reply to  THEO
9 months ago

As a breaststroker, I agree and I’m suprised more people on the site don’t appreciate the nuances of this.

Last edited 9 months ago by Penguin
Reply to  Penguin
9 months ago

People say Kitajima (whom Im overall a fan of) transformed breaststroke, but really he cheated and forced a rule change. A top-heavy undulating stroke with a snappy kick is a cool technique that I think is causing the stroke (at least sprint breaststroke) to evolve. Maybe the “inside of the foot” rule needs to clarified but there’s a big difference between a Hannis / Sacki breast kick and a dolphin kick, mechanically. As far as dolphin kicks into the wall… Sacki probably just gets unlucky with the turn timing (he is 6’8 after all) and yes, should be DQ’ed if he switches the breaststroke kick to a fly kick. Side note: the other breaststroker I see dolphin kicking into the… Read more »

Guimaraes Cayley
9 months ago

The rule has been clear in regards to a downward dolphin kick. An upward kick is never referenced. Way back when I swam I used the upward dolphin kick during the kick. In order for this to work, the timing and body position have to be adjusted. I see no problem with this, since it is a technique that requires skills; and it is legal.

What I see athletes doing, and I think is illegal is: they first do the “regular” breaststroke kick and then do an upward dolphin kick (that is, they perform two kicks per cycle) and/or they do multiple dolphin kicks at start, turns and finish.

9 months ago

Cameron is pretty much saying, “this is not breaststroke and he did not really break my record” when he talks about how breaststroke “evolved”, right?

Reply to  2Fat4Speed
9 months ago

I mean it’s pretty laughable coming from him. I don’t know about the degree of upwards dolphin foot motion van der Burgh used relative to Sakci, but he always used a lot of upward hip drive and while less extreme he falls in the lineage of Sakci’s flowing style. Also, at least Sakci does a real breaststroke kick unlike Shymanovich. Sounds like CVB’s just salty he didn’t take it to the extreme. Besides that he admitted to using extra kicks off the dive and obviously had the benefit of an impermeable full body suit.

Coach Tom
Reply to  2Fat4Speed
9 months ago

Funny, because that’s what everyone else was saying when he was using 3 dolphin kicks off every wall to break records.

M d e
Reply to  2Fat4Speed
9 months ago

Feel that’s uncharitable.

Definitely has been a change in breaststroke at the elite level since VDB, lead by Peaty.

Across the board stroke rates are way higher, and technical changes were made to facilitate the rates (narrower kick being the biggest, but also timing of the breath and the distance the hands travel back on the pull).

Sink or Swim
9 months ago

Can Sakci hold that technique and speed during a long course event? The future of men’s breaststroke is exciting.

Reply to  Sink or Swim
9 months ago

Narrator: This is not breaststroke.

The condors were robbed
9 months ago

Results of the analysis: dolphin kicks 🐬

Coach Tom
Reply to  The condors were robbed
9 months ago

Come now, there are some very distinct differences. Van der Burgh does his illegal dolphin kick during the pullout, whereas Sakci favors using his illegal kick into the walls.

There's no doubt that he's tightening up
Reply to  Coach Tom
9 months ago

This is GOATed

9 months ago

Perhaps we need to bring back the era of the simple “frog kick” and level the playing field.

9 months ago

Damn, let me frogkick my way to a 1mn30 olympic gold medal