Swimming: New stroke works for Phelps
By Paul Newberry
CHARLOTTE ó Using his new windmill stroke for an entire lap, Michael Phelps tied for the fastest time in the preliminaries of the 100-meter freestyle Sunday morning at the Charlotte UltraSwim.
Phelps, swimming in the next-to-last heat, advanced to the evening final with a time of 49.50 seconds, which was matched by fellow Olympian Ricky Berens.
Another U.S. Olympian, Cullen Jones, was third fastest at 49.75, while France’s Frederick Bousquet moved on with the fourth-best time, 49.81. Bousquet is world-record holder in the 50 free ó a mark he set last month ó and favored in the 100.
Phelps used his normal bent-arm stroke on the outward lap Sunday morning, but straightened his arms for the return. The motion requires more energy but should produce the additional speed he is looking for in the sprint race.
“If I can perfect it, it’s definitely a faster tempo for me,” Phelps said. “That’s something I need in the 100. My stroke is more a 200 or 400 stroke.”
Initially, he had planned to use the straight-arm stroke only for the last 15 meters. But a strong kick off the wall for his return lap prompted him to change the plan on the fly.
“I had a good break off the wall, so I said, ‘Why not? Let’s just try it the whole 50,”‘ Phelps said. “I felt a lot better that I did (Saturday) in the 50. If I feel the same way tonight, I’ll probably do it for the whole thing.”
But there’s still plenty of work to do, and Phelps didn’t have his coach with him for the final day of the meet. Bob Bowman left after Saturday night’s session to attend a swimming clinic in Chicago, leaving retired Michigan coach Jon Urbanchek to watch over things.
Phelps focused on getting his arms more out in front of him in the preliminary swim, allowing him to push away more water on his follow-through. He even demonstrated for the media after the race, showing the proper arm position.
“Over time, once I do get all the kinks out, this is going to be a faster way to swim the 100,” Phelps said. “The biggest thing is working on the catch, having my fingertips in front of my body. In the 50, they were kind of out more … so I wasn’t getting the proper pull. That’s something we have to work on. I think over time, after I watch more video of my own races, I’ll be able to pick up more on that.”
Phelps is competing in five events at Charlotte, his first meet since winning a record eight gold medals at the Beijing Olympics.
He won the 200 free and 100 butterfly, but finished second to world-record holder Aaron Peirsol in the 100 backstroke ó Phelps’ first loss in a final in nearly a year. He qualified for the finals of the 50 free but scratched; that was merely a training race for the 100, a chance to get in some extra work on his straight-arm stroke.
“This is the first chance we’ve had to use it,” he said. “We’re just trying to play with a few things.”