Rio 2016: Why Michael Phelps may have the fastest swimming turn ever
American Olympian Michael Phelps is known around the world for his amazing swimming ability. As of this writing, he has won 21 gold medals, more than any other athlete. It turns out there’s science behind his skill.
In his blog “Swimming Science,” Dr. John Mullen, DPT, CSCS analyzes Phelps’s turn, not just from the 2016 Olympics, but over the years.
He found that his turn in the 400-metre Men’s Free Relay was likely the fastest ever to the 15-metre mark, the longest point a swimmer is allowed to remain underwater after the flip.
WATCH: Michael Phelps’s turn
“Unless we get actual race footage with better camera angles, we will never know if the Michael Phelps swimming turn at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games was officially the fastest,” Mullen writes in his blog.
“Nonetheless, this quick analysis suggests it is one of the fastest of all-time.”
What makes Phelps so fast?
In general, the underwater dolphin stroke — used after a swimmer pushes off the wall and completes a flip-turn — is becoming more popular because it’s the fastest way to move through the water.
VIDEO GALLERY: Michael Phelps dominates the swimming world
“You can kick faster underwater than you can above water,” Carlos Vega, head swimming and diving coach at Trinity College, Connecticut, told Global News. “So if you can maximize power and speed underwater, there’s a lot less resistance, there’s a lot less drag when you’re in that streamlined position.”
Swimming underwater for so long also allows swimmers to avoid the wave generated behind them by the forward motion to the wall.
While more swimmers are utilizing this turn, few can do it as efficiently as Phelps. And that may be due to physiological reasons.
“Anatomically, he has a perfect swimming body,” Vega said of Phelps. “He’s got long legs, a relatively short torso. He’s got incredible flexibility in his lower back and his ankles, and incredible core strength.”
Vega said that most swimmers can stay underwater using the dolphin kick for an average of seven of the 15 allowed metres. But Phelps can do it for almost the full 15.
In fact, he is so proficient utilizing this stroke that, when he was at the wall during the 400-metre race, he was about a shoulder-length ahead of the swimmer from France. After his dolphin-kick stroke that took him deeper than the other swimmers and lasted almost the full 15 metres, he ended up almost half a body-length ahead of him.
It appears that Phelps and his coach know how to make the most of science.
© 2016 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.