#TBT: Sprint Free vs Underwater Dolphin Kick (Swimming Science in 1997)

Many thanks to Jim Avery for providing this TBT video. 

Mel Stewart and Rowdy Gaines faceoff between prelims and finals of the 1997 NCAA Championships, to determine which is faster: underwater dolphin kicking or above the water freestyle swimming.

Remember, this is only a decade after David Berkoff first broke through with his underwater “Berkoff Blastoff” dolphin kicking, and the idea that swim races could be won by the swimmer with the best underwater kick was still relatively novel.

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T Hill

Brief background before D Berkoff, a swimmer named Dawn Hewitt who swam at Auburn with Coach John Asmuth was forced (due to her shoulder locking out at times above her head) into underwater kicking in her 50/100 back on the college level. She dealt with this during her age group years in St. Pete, Fla, and we discovered how great an underwater kicker she was.
She swam 2-3 strokes in her 50 back and a few more in her 100 back. Mel if you had shaved down you would have taken down a Rowdy man !

T – did not know that a/Dawn. Thanks for the history lesson…

Losing to Rowdy? That dude has no hair, not really. He’s Mr. Peach Fuzz. I’m mostly Neanderthal.


Mel , if my memory is good enough , i kind of remember how your underwater dolphin kicks ( after the wall )made a significant difference when u won that 200 fly against M;Gross .

5-6 kicks off that 150 wall in Perth. That did it.


By the way , that was one great vidéo ! i had loads of fun watching it .



Mel, I have to say that you breathing every 2 the whole race was just as key to your winning that race against Gross as Gross was breathing every stroke most of the way. He wasn’t as efficient as Michael Phelps to be able to hold you off the last 50m. It’s a testament to your conditioning. Thanks for sharing the videos everyone! So many things are much different, but both you and Gross have phenomenal butterfly technique.


At the NCAA’s watch Joe Schooling’s underwaters…Truly amazing! Not an expert by any means but they are the best I have ever seen


Seliskar is pretty damn good as well .


I remeber well Berkoff’s insane underwater at the Olympics in 88 . Nobody was expecting such great feat on a 100 back and it’s efficiency .

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Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder of SwimSwam.com. He first got his feet wet by building The Swimmers' Circle beginning in January 2010, and now comes to SwimSwam to use that experience and help build a new leader in the sport of swimming. Aside from his life on the InterWet, …

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