A pout of disappointment. To the world gold obtained in the final of the 100-meter butterfly, the Hungarian Kristof Milak hoped to add a world record, a feat that he had achieved in front of his public three days before in the 200-meter butterfly, on June 21. In total, during the World Swimming Championships in Budapest at the end of June, two world records, seven continental and five junior world records were broken. Some fifteen continental and two planetary marks had already been planned in Tokyo. Will this waltz of lap times run out, as the European Championship kicks off on Thursday 11 August?
In chlorinated water, the oldest world record dates back to the Beijing Olympics in 2008 (Michael Phelps, in the 400m individual medley). In the 50m pool, only 11 world records are ten years old or older, out of 34 individual events. Most of these old brands date back to 2009, the year polyurethane wetsuits were worn by swimmers. The latter were banned as of 2010, without canceling the records achieved with these “magical” swimsuits.
Another flagship Olympic sport, athletics has a different track record on the subject. Fifteen world records date back to the late 1980s, which are also clouded by doping suspicions. “Several scientific articles have shown this. The slope of progression has reached its peak in athletics, which does not happen in swimming”, says Robin Pla, technical advisor to the French Swimming Federation (FFN). Why so much difference? “First of all, because swimming is still a sport that is only 120 years old, athletics is much older,” responds the scientific referent. He further points out “later professionalization” swimmers
World runner-up!!!! Happiness @maximegrousset. a pleasure to follow the performance of French swimmers and help optimize their starts with @anrNePTUNE @EcoledesPonts @Science2024 @RobiinRoad @INSEP_PARIS pic.twitter.com/vBWrZB9A95
— Remi Carmigniani (@remicarmigniani) June 22, 2022
“The scientific means that allow training to be better calibrated are now also more efficient in the water”, says Robin Pla. The researcher cites underwater cameras and physiological measurement tools (for example, on the presence of lactic acid). “It allows you to be much more demanding in training. Before the coaches were more groping. This is another aspect of the professionalization of the discipline”. Robin Pla places the emergence of scientific data consideration in the early 2000s.
Like other athletes, some swimmers are also beginning to integrate issues related to sleep, diet, lifestyle or mental preparation. Robin Pla praises the rigor of Michael Phelps which, according to him, has led to an evolution in the vision of the profession. “We are seeing more and more swimmers mastering their project, like Florent Manaudou. And we see that those who achieve it have an individualized program”.
The data specialist also explains the waltz of continental records by the “densification” of discipline, driven by a gradual diversification of the nations present. However, the expert is surprised by the constant progression of the men’s 100-meter butterfly and the women’s 100-meter backstroke, while the times for other events are stagnant. Among the hypotheses he raises: an improved swimming technique over these distances. In the late 1990s, the trend was for fewer strokes. Nowadays, swimmers tend to increase the frequency without losing amplitude.
Another notable development is flows. An art in which the French Léon Marchand stands out. Studying the references of the 8 best in the world, Robin Pla has discovered that the best are not the fastest in their swimming “but they optimize their castings”. In the Insep basin, one of the poles of high-level sport in France, Maxime Grousset was able to perfect his underwater technique under the watchful eye of the FFN technical adviser and the projection of new technological tools. “We looked at its trajectory, its speed. So we were able to give him objective elements such as the precise angle, the number of undulations to make, so that his cast would be perfect”, illustrates Robin Pla.
In addition, bathers benefit from the changes in the pools. Twenty years ago, it was not uncommon for a swimming pool to exceed the regulatory 50 meters by a few centimeters. In a sport where victory is decided by hundredths, this difference probably weighed on distances such as 800 or 1,500 meters. “Today, swimming pools are increasingly temporary and are built to the millimeter. Therefore, to be approved, a swimming pool must measure 50,020 meters to which we will add chronometer plates one centimeter thick on each side”, says Basile Gazeaud, team manager of the FFN.
Another noteworthy novelty: the breakwater water lines, which limit eddies. From now on, the regulations of the International Federation require that each lane be delimited by two lanes. Bathers placed outside are therefore no longer disadvantaged by having a wall as a ledge. “For five years now, with each new pool project, we have asked that anchor points be designed for these additional lanes to make sure we have eight fair lanes,” explains Basile Gazeaud.
Last factor of progression, the starting platforms have had a starting block since 2009, which allows a better grip and therefore a greater explosiveness of the swimmers when whistling. Backrest athletes have benefited from the installation of stirrups since 2013. This removable non-slip edge allows swimmers to grip better. Placed close to the surface, this plate, two centimeters thick at most, is very slightly inclined, to block the foot.
—Robin EPL (@RobiinRoad) June 22, 2022
On the other hand, no scientific data supports the negative feelings of swimmers who evolve in pools with different depths from one side to the other. If some say they have a feeling of being sucked in, “it is subjective because only a depth that is too shallow generates more water returns”, says Basile Gazeaud. For the specialist, a flat-bottom pool 2.5 to 3 m deep represents the ideal pool to achieve good performance.
In 2009, under the era of polyurethane suits, 43 world records fell in the pool in Rome, then the World Cup venue. How many will be in this same pool, this year, during the European Championships?
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