Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Identical Times by Phelps

When looking at the start info for tonight's (actually tomorrow morning's) 200 m Men's Butterfly competition, I noticed that Michael Phelps had equaled his own Olympic Record (set in his preliminary heat) when swimming in the semifinal round. Both were done in 1:53.70, which is 113.70 seconds. Identical to better than one part in ten thousand!

I thought it might be amusing to look at the splits to see just how evenly paced those two swims actually were.

The line labeled "Pace" gives the time needed to swim each 50 m segment.

50 m100 m150 m200 m

The consistency is amazing. He must have a clock running in his head that is accurate to the tenth of a second.

I find it interesting that the last length is faster than the previous two. They really do save energy for that final leg of the race, at least in these preliminary races where the only goal is to finish high enough to move on to the next race and when you might have other races coming up within 12 hours, or a championship race within the past hour. In this case, his second competition in the 200 m butterfly was at 11:10 am, while his world record in the 200 m freestyle had been at 10:16 am.

For that matter, let's make a note of the info from his 28 March 2007 world record set in Melbourne, Australia. After all, the odds are high that the winner of the Gold medal will set a new world record. [Updated: Yep, but just barely. I have added his 13 August 2008 world record to the table.]

50 m100 m150 m200 m

Interesting. His pacing is quite different when everything is on the line. In this case his last leg is only slightly faster, and slower than the second leg. He puts a lot more energy into the first half of the race, then hangs on to the finish. [Updated: Look at how similar these times are! When they showed the line for the WR pace during the race, he was right on it. And you can see why he was disappointed at his finishing time. As the commentators noted, he started to tie up and slowed down in the last 50 m rather than being slightly faster as in his race at last year's World Championship. A split of 29.21 would have put him solidly into the 1:51.xx territory.]

Note 1:
The first 50 m is always fast because of the huge advantage that comes from launching yourself off of the starting blocks.

Note 2:
This issue of pacing is not so different as it is for a race horse, where my analysis of the 2007 Kentucky Derby (here and here) showed that the horse pulling away at the end of the race was not speeding ... the others were slowing down. I didn't bother looking up the splits for the come-from-behind victory of the US over the French in the Olympic 4x100 m relay, but that might be what happened on the final leg of that race.

Note 3:
I decided I should link to his Wikipedia entry as well as the Beijing Olympics entry up at the top, and discovered that he also has his own website complete with a personal logo (he has a P.R. firm?), studly professional photos, and a version in Chinese!

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