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Tuesday, April 28, 2015

For swim fans only

The US masters swimming championships took place this past weekend in San Antonio, Texas. One of the most impressive records set was in the men's age 45-49 200 yard individual medley. Frenchman Nicolas Granger's 1:51.44 cut a whopping five seconds off the previous record by US Olympian Dave Sims.

My first thought was, oh boy, another shameless doped up Euro setting masters records. (The French seem to have more than their share of juicers.) Just to confirm my suspicions, I Google-imaged him, and saw this photo:

Granger doesn't appear to be on steroids, though it's possible he's on human growth hormone. But what really struck me was the freakish length of his arms. From this photo, it looks as though his fingertips would almost reach his knees.

There's no drug which causes that. Being tall is obviously an advantage in swimming, and having long arms is 90% of the advantage of being tall. Whatever Granger's height, his wingspan is that of a much taller man.

Verdict: he might actually be clean.


Jokah Macpherson said...

Not a swim fan, sorry. (Although I my senior homecoming date later won Olympic medals in swimming.)

Holy shit that dude's arms are long, though. I know mean arm length is the same as your height. Any idea what the standard deviation is?

John Craig said...

Jokah --
No, I don't know what the standard deviation is, though I can't imagine it's much more than 1.5", at least for the white population. I used to follow boxing, and the vast majority of white boxers seemed to have a wingspan within an inch or two of their height. The black boxers generally had a wingspan of about five or six inches more than their height.

May I ask who your senior homecoming date was? I've probably heard of her.

Jokah Macpherson said...

Interesting about the racial differences. The Sports Gene mentioned this but I had forgotten. How come Africans don't make better swimmers? Too many offsetting disadvantages?

I'd rather not say publicly for anonymity's sake. If you e-mail me at my pseudonym (no space) at gmail dot com I can respond and tell you.

John Craig said...

Jokah --
Actually blacks are doing quite well in the sprints these days. Both of the US representatives in the men's 50 meter free at the London Olympics were black, though one of them was extremely light-skinned (maybe 1/5 African genes, I'd guess). And black women went 1-2-3 in the 100 yard free at the NCAA championships last month. They tend not to do as well in the distance events though because those of West African descent have smaller lung capacity and denser bones, so they don't float as well, plus they tend to have fast twitch muscle fibers. They also tend to have wider shoulders and narrower hips as well as longer arms, all of which are advantages in the sprints.

Expect an email.

Anonymous said...

If you have long arms, you have to have the strength to use it! Then you have to be wary of joint problems. I know from experience.

Has your freestyle form changed over the years? It seems many pros use the "early vertical forearm" technique. Engineers have studied the fluid dynamics of different stroke styles. One study from Univ of Maryland concluded that a deep catch with straighter arm pull produced more force per stroke, and therefore had more potential for speed than EVF. Personally, I haven't seen much change in speed between the two. A deep catch seems to feel better to me, but I can burn out quicker on it. I like practicing EVF just for the discipline and concentration it takes.

I love watching the underwater videos of swimmers to see their style of arm pull and kick. I think the most entertaining to watch is ian thorpe. Phelps, who has a more loping, asymmetric stroke, seems to be fast in spite of his technique.

Also, do you prefer one brand of goggles over another? I've never found anything more comfortable than cheap swedish style goggles.


John Craig said...

B --
My freestyle, which was mediocre to begin with, has only gone downhill as I've gotten older. Every now and then I experiment with my stroke, but basically i've let it slide. My swim schedule for the past 15+ years has basically incorporated only one, possibly two days of real speed work, and that's almost always done fly. (I'm very much a one trick pony in swimming.) Every now and then I play around with the EVF technique, but it tends to put some strain on my right shoulder, which is often sort of iffy, so I usually give up fairly shortly.

I've heard the same about the deep catch, and I believe it, and I think it also accounts for much of the success of the windmill stroke for sprinters, especially 50 guys, recently. (I think the straight arm recovery is generally coupled with a deeper catch and straighter arms underwater as well.) Even the guys who don't have a pure straight arm seem to do well with it. It seems to be able to transform guys who were not overwhelming physical specimens (think Ashley Callus from 2000, or Eamonn Sullivan from '08) into world class sprinters. And Frederick Bousquet, who was short (6' 1"?) by sprinter standards, did very well with it too. Florent Manadou, who IS an overwhelming physical specimen, now seems to be unbeatable with it. Nathan Adrian seems to have an almost straight arm recovery with one of his arms, but not the other. Not sure what to make of that. And Caleb Dressel did great with it this summer. Abby Weitzell also uses it too good effect, as did Inge de Bruijn.

I think Thorpe's secret -- apart from his size 17 feet and his incredible powerful kick -- was that he used his torso very effectively for power as he swam; you could almost see his torso power his arms through the water, the arms were very much following the body in his case. I remember hearing about fifteen yeas ago about a kicking set he did: 4 x 100 LCM kick @ 4:00, on a board, holding 1:01. I can't even imagine kicking that fast.

I use Sporti goggles, mostly because I can get them cheaply at But goggles, like shoes, are very much an individual thing. I think the trick is to try on a pair to see if they create suction around your eyeball, meaning, they fit your face right.