1500 Freestyle: How the Best Swims It



The London Olympics saw eight different world records broken, including the men’s 1500m freestyle, in which Sun Yang dropped his own world record by more than three seconds. Only three men have swum a sub-14:40 race in a textile suit, and Sun Yang has done it three times. So how does he do it and what does is mean?


After looking at the split breakdowns for all three of his sub-14:40 swims, this is what I learned:


1. Bring it Home
In all of his races, Sun Yang’s fastest splits occur in the first and last 100 meters. However, his last 100 meters is, on average, more than two seconds faster than his first 100 meters. Additionally, his final 50 meter splits are always the fastest splits of the entire race and are, on average, more than one second faster than his opening 50 meters. In fact, the final 50 meter split of Sun Yang’s world record swim in London was actually faster than any of the final 50 meter splits in the men’s 200 freestyle final, including his own.


2. Smooth and Even in the Middle
During the middle 1300 meters of his race, the emphasis is on remaining smooth and even. The split difference between his fastest and slowest 100 meters in this portion of his race ranges from .4-.8 seconds. All but three of these 100 meter splits are faster than 59 seconds, with the fastest middle split being 58.12.


3. Details Matter!
People in the swimming community have a tendency to think that details matter more in shorter races. Although it is easier to overcome a bad start in a 1500 than it would be in a 50, I believe details matter more in the longer races. The difference between average 50 meter splits from Sun Yang’s 14:31 and his 14:35 was less than .2 seconds. If a 100 freestyler improves his turns by .2 seconds, he will improve his overall time by .2 seconds. However, if a 1500 freestyler improves his turns by the same margin, he can drop almost six seconds from his overall time.


To see all the splits from these races, click here.

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