Coaching

Do Ian Thorpe’s Comments Also Apply to Women’s 200 Freestyle

Last week I analyzed the Men’s 200 Freestyle in light of Ian Thorpe’s comments (see here). This week I’m looking at the Women’s elite 200 Freestylers.

Briefly, Thorpe said that if swimmers can’t go out hard and match his impressive last 50 speed, then they have to go out very hard and survive that last painful 50.

Sprinters versus Distance

In the analysis of the men’s race we established that sprinters and distance swimmers have different strategies for the 200. So we’ll jump to that analysis on the top 24 swimmers in the 2012 Olympic Women’s 200 freestyle. That analysis didn’t compare raw 50 splits of the different swimmers, but rather the ‘Offset’ between the 50 split and that swimmer’s 50 PB.

For the following graph, I looked at the average Offsets for the 8 swimmers with the fastest 50 PBs, and the 8 swimmers with the fastest 400 PBs. I removed Allison Schmitt and Caitlin McClatchey from the averages they appear in the both top 8 lists.

I’ve included the 2012 men’s race profiles for comparison.

Note the similar race profiles for sprint and distance women, with both groups coming back faster in the last 50. The men, however, have significantly different sprint/distance race profiles, with male sprinters coming back much faster in the last 50, and male distancers coming back slower in the last 50.

There’s also a huge difference in how sprint and distance women swim that 3rd 50. While both sprint and distance men split the 3rd 50 roughly 0.2 seconds slower than the 2nd 50, sprint women split it ~0.75 seconds slower, and Elite distance women swim it ~0.5 seconds slower.

In other words, it looks like both groups of women were easing off on the 3rd 50 in preparation for a fast closing 50.

Comparison to Elite Women’s 200 Freestylers

It’s one thing to compare averages of the top swimmers in the world, but the truly elite are often doing something differently. For further analysis, I selected the 5 fastest women from Olympics and World Championships 200 Freestyle finals.

  • Federica Pellegrini, 1st 2009 Worlds, WR, 1:52.98 *shiny suit
  • Allison Schmitt, 1st 2012 Olympics, 1:53.61
  • Katie Ledecky, 1st 2016 Olympics, 1:53.73
  • Sarah Sjoestroem, 2nd 2016 Olympics, 1:54.08
  • Ariarne Titmus, 2nd 2019 Worlds, 1:54.66

The first thing I noticed with these swims is that only Pellegrini’s swim was similar to the above sprint/distance race profiles of coming back much faster on the last 50, and some of this may have been due to the effect of the shiny suit. The other 4 elite women all took it out so fast that they weren’t able to come back faster in the last 50.

This elite group also included a rarity. Sarah Sjoestroem is the world record holder in the 50, and ALSO a truly elite 200 Freestyler. She takes it out fast, as expected, and then swims a remarkably even race after that.

(As an aside, I’d pay really good money to watch Adrian, Proud, Fratus, Gkolomeev and the other top 50 sprinters line up for a serious 200 race. And I’d bet on Caeleb Dressel all the way.)

Now, let’s look as the 50 PB Offsets of these elite women.

As commented above, we see 4 similar race profiles, with the odd one out being Sjoestroem. Her sprint speed allowed her the luxury of Offsets up to 2 seconds more than her competitors. And even she couldn’t bring that last 50 back faster.

In other words, they all go out so hard that they just can’t bring it back fast.

Summary

We see that Ian Thorpe’s comments are completely accurate for the women also. The fastest women swim the 200 by going out very hard, and surviving that last 50.

However, there are two big differences between how elite men and women swim the 200:

  • Olympic-level sprint and distance women tended to ease off on the 3rd 50, allowing them to come back with speed on the last 50, where we saw no easing off on the 3rd 50 with Olympic-level sprint or distance men
  • The fastest women’s 200 swims in history have all involved going out very hard, and surviving the last 50, which is significantly different than the race strategies displayed by the Top 8 sprint and distance women’s groups from the 2012 Olympics

2 thoughts on “Do Ian Thorpe’s Comments Also Apply to Women’s 200 Freestyle

  1. So should we as coaches look to match the women’s race strategy to the men’s or do we look at the physiology of women, who are usually acknowledged to have a better aerobic capacity and train their races more similarly to Sjoestroem who brings a more solidly paced 150 after the initial hard sprint? The issue of training women is one which fascinates me, not just because of my gender, but also because it has been neglected in the past in favour of a one size fits all approach with women seen as not quite as good as the men rather than a separate entity with unique challenges. Thank you for this. A great debate. Sandra Wilde

    On Wed, 26 May 2021 at 21:49, Coach Rick – Mighty Tritons Swimming wrote:

    > Rick Madge posted: ” Last week I analyzed the Men’s 200 Freestyle in light > of Ian Thorpe’s comments (see here). This week I’m looking at the Women’s > elite 200 Freestylers. Briefly, Thorpe said that if swimmers can’t go out > hard and match his impressive last 50 speed, then” >

    1. Outstanding question, SandraAnne. My main goal for this analysis was to uncover the necessary differences in race strategy between sprinters and distancers for the 200. I’ve heard too many coaches talk about a single strategy when it seems obvious that there are major differences in the types of swimmers who do well in a race that’s a perfect blend of speed and endurance.

      Once we have that knowledge, then we can start to fine tune strategies to the individual. As you point out, Sjoestroem can take it out relatively easy compared to her 50 PB, and then adapt as the race progresses. But her sprint capability does come at the cost of endurance.

      Of the top 5 women, I like Allison Schmitt’s strategy the most. She was out fast, and basically challenged everyone else to keep up. And her incredible toughness allowed her to tough it out to the end. If you want to take charge of a race, that’s the way to do it. Chad Le Clos tried something similar in Rio, but took it out too fast and couldn’t keep the pace up. It’s clearly a very tricky balance that takes a lot of experience to master.

      As far as training women differently, my philosophy is that everyone can be coached differently, even when the actual practice is similar for all. Every part of practice should have goals, and those goals can and should be different based on the person. As an example, a set of 10 x 100 can involve some working on best average, others on front end speed and then surviving, others on finding that power cruise speed and a fast back end. For my groups, different lanes usually have different pace times, but that doesn’t mean the fast kids have the fastest pace times. As coaches we have a lot of ability to tailor our practices in many ways.

      Thanks for your comments, and I too love a great debate.

      Coach Rick

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