Enhancing Performance with Biomechanics

By Wilkerson, Jerry D. | JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, May-June 1996 | Go to article overview

Enhancing Performance with Biomechanics


Wilkerson, Jerry D., JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance


Scientific research in swimming is relatively young compared to research in more traditional Olympic sports. Unfortunately, research in the past has lagged behind swimmers' experience. The objectives of biomechanical research in swimming are to understand human movement in the medium of water and to enhance performance. Biomechanical research in swimming has now reached a level of knowledge where transfer to practitioners is possible, and this process is underway with the Resident National Team at the International Center for Aquatic Research (ICAR), sponsored by U.S. Swimming and housed at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.

Eligible swimmers may request to join the Resident National Team and train with the head coach, Jonty Skinner. Jonty films the swimmers racing, analyzes their strokes, and then shows the videotape to the athletes and discusses technique with them. Many of the athletes at ICAR have never seen their technique during a competitive race before. Videotaping also reveals other important evaluative measures, such as stroke length, stroke frequency, and velocity. ICAR biomechanics director Jane Cappaert and her staff help Jonty with biomechanical analysis and facilitate biomechanical testing in the multimillion-dollar swimming treadmill called the flume. Jonty also evaluates technique in the flume, where he can control the speed of swimming.

Olympic Hopefuls

Three female swimmers on the Resident National Team recently competed for positions on the U.S. Olympic swim team.

At the beginning of this year, Richelle Depold was the 13th fastest American ever in the 50-meter freestyle and the 12th fastest in the 100-meter butterfly. She is the 6th fastest in the world in the 100-meter butterfly, 13th fastest in the 50-meter freestyle, and 14th fastest in the 100-meter freestyle. During the summer of 1995, she finished second in the 100-meter butterfly to make the Pan Pacific team, and she went on to finish fourth in the 100-meter butterfly at the Pan Pacific Championships.

Richelle started swimming at a very early age and was motivated by an older brother in swimming. She never had the benefits of complete scientific and technological support until she joined the Resident National Team. She has made extensive changes to her technique based on this new knowledge and has improved steadily.

The U.S. Olympic trials are more competitive than most competitions around the world and certainly more competitive than the actual Olympic Games. In order to qualify for the team, a swimmer must place first or second in a specific event where the top six competitors in the world may be competing. Richelle unfortunately did not qualify for the Olympic team. She will return to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the fall to complete her degree in kinesiology with an emphasis on exercise science.

Summer Sanders competed in the 1992 Olympics and won gold medals in the 200-meter butterfly and 400-meter medley relay, a silver medal in the 200-meter individual medley, and a bronze medal in the 400-meter individual medley (American record). She retired from swimming in 1993 but came out of retirement the next year, and in 1995 she received the Comeback Award at the Summer Nationals after her second-place finish in the 200-meter individual medley that qualified her for the Pan Pacific team.

Summer believes that the opportunities she has had to improve at ICAR have been particularly important because she only began swimming again recently. Her competitive focus was primarily on the 200-meter butterfly and the 200-meter individual medley. Unfortunately, she did not qualify for the U.S. Olympic team, but she can be seen as a swimming commentator for NBC coverage of the Olympics.

At the beginning of this year, Amy Van Dyken was ranked 1st in the 50-meter freestyle, 5th in the 100-meter freestyle, and 15th in the 100-meter butterfly. She continues to break her own American record in the 50-meter freestyle.

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