Updated: Jul 17, 2021
With her straight arms and high elbow recovery, the great Janet Evans was my inspiration for a replicable swim stroke for the vast majority of my female squad. (High Elbows - Part 1)
For our male readers, we will focus on Michael Klim, my inspiratation for what we call the 'Ooh Ahh McGrath' stroke! (cricket lovers will understand!)
World Record 100m butterfly
7 medals 1998 World Championships (4 gold, 2 silver, 1 bronze)
5 Olympic medals including 2 x Olympic Gold 2000 4x100 relay, 4 x 200 relay
Michael's speciality was butterfly and he was the world record holder at one stage. His coach was the great Gennadi Touretski from Russia who had immigrated to Australia to become the Australian Institute of Sports head coach. His one stipulation when he accepted the role was he could bring one Russian swimmer with him.
Most will know this swimmer's name, as he's a person that most coaches show their students as having 'the perfect stroke' that we in triathlon should copy. Alexander Popov, world record holder in 50m and 100m freestyle. He also swam the 200m freestyle very well, although not as brilliant as he was in the 50m and 100m. So Michael trained with Popov and Gennadi would be frustrated.
'I think Michael could be as good or better than Popov in the 200m but he just doesn't have the fluency.'
Here is where both have helped so many of my tri swimmers become better.
Michael was a beast of a man, big broad shoulders, not overly flexible, and Gennadi would work hours on honing his technique to look like his illustrious training partner. However at the races the swim times were not just there.
I remember saying to Gennadi more than once 'Klim is the best butterfly swimmer in the world, why keep working him for the 200m freestyle?
He would say,
'because I know he has it in him; can you imagine our 4x200 relay team at the Olympics if we had another 1 minute 46 second swimmer in it! He would walk away shaking his head saying 'I just got to find the KEY and we will be unbeatable in that relay'.
I labour on this because of a side Sutto true story...
The main race pool back in those times for state and nationals was about 10km from a famous aquarium (in Manly Pier, Sydney for Australian readers). In my swim days, between sessions to get away from parents and possibly the stress of the big meets, I would go and sit in the aquarium. So you get the picture in your mind, it's dark in there with the luminous water and the menagerie of fish all swimming around. It's a peaceful place but it always fascinated me to watch the movements of the fish. To me it was like my hideaway with a swim technique lesson.
I was not in swimming anymore but my brother had one of his swimmers in the 100m and told me he thinks he could win; come up and watch the race with me...
As a good older brother I wanted to support him. So after the heats I went down to the aquarium for old times sake. After about 30 minutes I noticed another guy, just sitting about 20m away. He got up and as he went to exit passed me, stopped and said in Russian dialect, 'Suttooooo. What are you doing here?' I gave him the story and he said 'all the coaches should be here, these are our teachers, I learn more here than any coaches convention.'
We agreed, but as he left he turned and said 'I've found the key. Tomorrow you will see, we have our 200m relay now.'
I was leaving after that night, however Gennadi said stay, it will be worth it. What does one do when the great coach says stay, you stay!
The culmination of that fateful trip was my brother's swimmer caused the upset of the night winning the 100m freestyle in 49 secs flat. A respectable time back then. Then the next night Michael Klim broke his best time by over 2 seconds to win the 200m freestyle swimming with a straight arm. No more Popov stroke, the innovative coach found the key. He had Michael using his fly to perfection, just adapted it to freestyle to swim 1 min 47 secs flat for the 200m free.
The 3rd and most important for male triathletes that struggle with shoulder inflexibility, was I left with a new stroke in mind thanks to Michael Klim; a stroke referred to in my squad as the 'Ooh ahh McGrath' stroke.
Before you view the clip I'll make another point, Bill Kirby swam the final leg in the Olympic 4 x 200 relay win with Michael, watch his stroke as well.
2000 Olympic Games; Klim and Kirby; 4 x 200m relay gold medalists
It has always been of great frustration to me watching age group triathletes, particularly those learning to swim as adults, as they twist and contort themselves in an attempt to replicate the mechanics of the Alexander Popov stroke. Why the Popov stroke is chosen as the 'model' technique for triathlon coaches and courses around the world is ludicrous!
Janet Evans, Michael Klim and Bill Kirby show us there is another way.., and with these three you will see that high elbow bent arm recovery is NOT a fundamental of swimming fast!
Just the way i see it.