Swimming on the web
CBC Olympic Swimming Coverage
I was glancing at the swimming page on the CBC Olympic coverage site this weekend and noticed they have some basic background information on swimming. Unfortunately, some of it makes you scratch your head. The Butterfly Essentials for example is under the title More air please which may be a little cutsie for my straight-laced tastes, but the caption under the lead photo is "The butterfly is the most efficient stroke and saves a lot of energy.", huh?
Backstroke is described under the title Slow and awkward with the subtitle "Backstroke least favourite event for swimmers" and has the caption "The backstroke might be the equivalent to watching an NHL team play the dreaded neutral zone trap." I admit I don't know enough about hockey to know what they are getting at, but surely, even in hockey-loving Canada we can describe backstroke swimming better than that?
There's a page for each of the four strokes, one for IM and one for relays, and they all contain something, usually several things that make you scratch your head.
In the upper right corner there is a "Animated sport explainer" for swimming which is an animated slideshow giving the basics about the swimming events. In this case the information is ok, but the choice of animation technology is rather lacking given current web technology. At best the animated swimming just looks clunky, at worst it can be confusing or actually misleading, e.g. the backstroke and butterfly turns. Why not use video of actual swimmers? Maybe Swim Canada can have something prepared for the 2012 Games.
Just for fun I thought I would try putting together a demonstration of what a more video-based introduction to Olympic swimming might look like.
There are four strokes used in Olympic competition: backstroke, breaststroke, butterfly, and freestyle. Back, breast and fly, as they are commonly abbreviated, are contested in 100m and 200m distances, freestyle is contested in 50, 100, 200, 400, 800, and 1500 metre distances. At the Olympics the 800m freestyle is only contested by women, the 1500m freestyle by men, at the World Championships and most other meets men and women can swim in either or both of these distance events.
In addition to the races in each stroke there are two individual medley races in which each swimmer swims all four strokes, 50m each in the 200 individual medley, 100m each in the 400 individual medley. The individual medley events are commonly referred to with the abbreviated names 200IM and 400IM. The order of the strokes in individual medley races is butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke, and freestyle.
The final pool events are the relays, where four swimmers each swim one leg of a relay. There are three relay events swum at the Olympics, the 4x100 free relay, the 4x100 medley relay, and the 4x200 free relay. Because backstroke is swum starting in the water rather than diving from the blocks the medley relay is swum backstroke, breaststroke, butterfly, and freestyle.
Finally, there is a new swimming event at the Olympics starting in 2008, the 10 kilometre open water race.
The Butterfly stroke
Butterfly is the second fastest stroke after freestyle. Rather than describe it in words, here are two short videos that allow you to see what the stroke looks like, plus a complete race from last year's World Championships:
The butterfly stroke - slow motion view from various angles of Michael Phelps in Barcelona in 2003
An underwater slow motion view of Michael Phelps swimming butterfly
The Mens 100m Butterfly race at the 2007 World Championships
There are two basic types of starts, the forward start from the blocks used for the breaststroke, butterfly, and freestyle strokes, and the in-the-water back start used for backstroke and medley relay races.
There are a few variations on the forward start, the most common being the grab start, with both feet at the front of the blocks, the track start, with one foot at the front, one at the back, and relay take-over starts. The second and later swimmers in a relay are allowed to initiate their start prior to the preceding swimmer touching the wall, as long as their feet don't leave the block before the previous swimmer touches. Swimmers use a variety of styles to try to maximize momentum and minimize delay, including various forms of swinging their arms.
Slow motion video of Ian Thorpe demonstrating a forward track start
Grab start (both feet at the front of the blocks)
Track start (one foot at the back of the blocks)
Backstroke start in slow motion from above water and below water
Well, it's far from complete but I think that's enough to get a feel for what it might look like. Perhaps I'll expand on it as time allows.