I have cited Harvard's Tim Martin simply because he is
the most extreme example of a high stroke rate
swimmer I (and most coaches I've talked with)
have ever seen. Certainly at his level of performance
Terry Laughlin has disparaged Tim's style as being
"ugly," "rough," and "exhausting."
But I'd like to offer up the concept that it is none of the
above; rather the word I'd use is "innovative," in the same
sense of a new style of swimming devised by a previous
Harvard swimmer named David Berkoff.
Not everyone who has a high stroke rate is "thrashing."
One high stroke rate swimmer that I do think thrashes a
bit is USC's Jamie Cail. Another sometimes thrasher
is hero-of-the-year-2000-Olympics-to-be Kaitlyn Sandeno.
But I don't think that Tim thrashes at all. He is remarkably
fluid and disciplined. He is just has a _very_ fast, yet
smooth, cadence. You'd really need to view slow motion
videos to appreciate this (just as you'd need slo-mo to examine
the biomechanics of something else which ostensibly
shouldn't work...the flight of a bumblebee).
Tim doesn't just have a high stroke rate. He has an
extremely high stroke rate. He is quoted on the Harvard
Web site as saying that every coach he's ever had has
tried to change his style. This includes Bud McAllister,
who has happily coached a number of high stroke
rate swimmers (Janet Evans among them), but who found
Tim's stroke rate to be extreme, even by his own tolerant
If you ask Tim about his stroke, he won't say that it's
exhausting at all. He'll tell you that he "pulls
very little water." I've used the obvious analogy
of spinning in cycling, as opposed to pulling big
gears. Nor should it be assumed that Tim's style
of swimming produces more drag than, for example,
the TI style of swimming. Drag is not necessarily
related to stroke length - not if the swimmer is consciously
trying to maintain a high stroke rate.
There is nothing published which says that drag is invariably related
to stroke length. Among other things, Dr. Brent Rushall
has noted that an accelerated recovery may reduce
drag for the following reason: with a long, slow, deliberate
recovery, you've got a whole arm out of the water, pushing
the rest of the body down into the water, increasing frontal
resistance. Reduce the recovery time, and this is reduced,
as is the period of deceleration in the forward velocity versus
time curve (when you are not "pulling" - we all know what this
means - back, and if you are not kicking, you are always
going to be decelerating...this is a physical fact...and the
deceleration is instantaneous and severe, no matter how one's
body is oriented). And these possible hydrodynamic and bio-
mechanical advantages don't even consider the possibility
that it may be more bioenergetically efficient for some
people to "push small gears fast" than to "push big
gears." Or that this style of swimming may be less injurious
by virtue of limiting both impingement and vascular wring-
I would love to be a fly on the wall sometime when Terry
is explaining to his West Point swimmers why it is that
Tim can swim so "wrong" and still swim circles around everyone
else in the Northeast. Could it be that he's not "wrong," afterall?
That he's really doing something which makes perfect biomechanical,
bioenergetic, and hydrodynamic sense?
As for being "rough" or "ugly," I disagree. Beauty is,
I suppose, in the eye of the beholder. I see as
much flowing grace when Tim swims as I see when
I watch any other distance swimmer. But beauty
has many faces. We should not dismiss, but rather
try to understand.
- Larry Weisenthal