A mere six-hundredths of a second cost Kyle Chalmers a gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics, but the champion swimmer believes he’s found a game-changer that will make all the difference come Paris in 2024, one he hopes his rivals won’t take advantage of.
Chalmers has joined forces with the team from Australian sports technology company eo, who have developed SwimBETTER, a device which can be used to track a swimmer’s technique in the water in real time.
That gives coaches access to the type of data they’ve never seen before, such as the force and angle of the hands as they move through the water.
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“I’m super excited to access this,” Chalmers told Wide World of Sports.
“I lost in Tokyo by 0.06 seconds, so for me, anything I can find that will make me that little bit faster is beneficial.
“Being able to have access to technology will allow me to find little imperfections in my stroke, and where I can improve.
“It really excites me and it was a no-brainer to team up with them.”
Chalmers said he was blown away from the first time he swam with the device.
“Initially I didn’t know what to think, but for them to put me in the pool and swim with the technology, then explain all the graphs and what it meant, that little bit was incredible,” he said.
“They gave me a few tips and tricks straight away, and I knew I needed to be involved, because I knew it would take me to the next level.
“When my race comes down to such fine margins, you need to find every possible advantage to be the winner, and this is going to help me find that extra little bit.”
Chalmers won the 100m freestyle in Rio in 2016 in a time of 47.58. He improved by exactly half a second in Tokyo, swimming 47.08, but was pipped by American superstar Caeleb Dressel.
While he wouldn’t be drawn on exactly how much improvement this new technology may bring, he did concede it could be significant.
“You look at other sports and there’s a whole lot of technology available, swimming’s probably been a little bit behind there,” he explained.
“It’s always been about flogging yourself and being as fit as you can, but technology is going to allow us to become better athletes and swim more efficiently and smarter.
“This will be a huge game-changer for sure.
“If it’s improving every single stroke I do, and I take close to 60 strokes in a race, you’d like to think that’s a fair margin I can drop.”
Chalmers’ enthusiasm is shared by leading coach Brant Best, the man who guided James Magnussen for much of his career.
“It’s super valuable for us, it’s stuff we haven’t had really accurate data on before,” he told Wide World of Sports.
“When I saw it my brain was full of possibilities, it opens up an understanding to questions we haven’t been able to answer in the past.
“The coaches we have in Australia are brilliant, but this takes it from guesswork to knowing exactly what’s going on.”
The last major revolution in swimming was the development of high-tech body suits, which saw times tumble. As Best pointed out, the two ways of going quicker are either increasing the force of the stroke, or reducing the drag.
While the high-tech suits were outlawed from 2010, a measure of their effectiveness can be seen from a quick glance at the men’s long-course world records, with the freestyle marks for every distance up to, and including, 800 meters, set prior to the ban.
“The change in the swimsuits through the late 1990s and early 2000s helped the swimmers move through the water with a lot more efficiency,” Best explained.
“They gave more of an advantage to swimmers who were perhaps less talented, who didn’t float as well. It leveled the playing field a bit.
“We’re now coming at it from a different direction, the swimsuits reduced drag, this device increases the force the swimmers apply.
“But at a high level, the swimsuits didn’t really change our understanding of the sport. This device changes everything for us.”
Just over a second covered the men’s 100m freestyle field in the final in Tokyo, and Best noted the extraordinary possibility that the new technology could be the difference between the gold medal and finishing at the tail of the field.
“A lot of the things that can go wrong with a stroke are related to how well the swimmer moves through the water,” he said.
“When we anchor at the start of our stroke to when we release at the back, the distance we travel is absolutely critical, and it comes down to a matter of centimeters.
“Five centimeters per stroke might not sound much, but when you add it up over Kyle’s race distance, you’re talking about maybe three meters or more over the 100m race.
“That’s the difference between first and last in the Olympic final.”
Best explained that this will help athletes test changes to their strokes out of competition, to understand what impact those changes have on other variables, such as heart rates.
“Maximum force isn’t always the way to go, because it can then impact other areas,” he said.
“This will help us determine the optimum amount of water to handle with each stroke.”
Best described how a swimming coach needs to be a salesman, able to convince the athlete that a change to the technique they’ve honed over many years will produce an improvement.
“If you’ve got the data in front of you that says you’ve made this change, and last week you were swimming this time, and now you’re swimming a tenth quicker, that really helps the buy-in,” he said.
“They engage more, and they’re not second guessing the change, because you can show them the evidence that it works, it’s not just gut feel.”
With the Tokyo games delayed by 12 months due to COVID-19, the run to Paris is a year shorter than normal.
Already 12 months on from Tokyo, Chalmers can see the Paris Olympics on the horizon.
“The exciting thing is Paris is two years away. The quicker I can get into using this the better,” he said.
“It’s an Australian company, so being able to access it first is really exciting. Hopefully it helps me and all my Australian teammates as well.
“I’m not saying I’ve got a bad stroke right now, but there’s always room for improvement.
“Hopefully by Paris I’ve got the best stroke in the world.”
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