Take Home Points:

  1. The aim of this post is to analyze the reaction time and the anaerobic alactic power over the Men´s 50m Freestyle final at the Doha 2014 World Championships (25m) that 2014 Doha World Championships Knee Flexion StartFlorent Manaudou (FN, FRA) won (20.26, WR).
  2. Lighter swimmers seem to have a faster reaction time. However, if FM is benchmarked with swimmers that have similar weight, he was better.
  3. Comparing the anaerobic alactic power for the first eight swimmers, on average, the power output was 3.714kW in the semi-finals and increased to 3.739kW in the final.
  4. While FM and Marco Orsi (ITA) increase slightly the power from the semis to the final, two of the main contenders to a medal (Cesar Cielho Filho, BRA; Vladimir Morozov, RUS) decrease it slightly.

Today’s post is on the outstanding race by Florent Manaudou 50m (FM, FRA) at the Men´s 50m Freestyle (20.26, WR). In a sprint like this an analyst must begin with the reaction times. FM reaction time is not completely impressive compared to other swimmers (RT=0.63s in the final; RT=0.62s in the semi-final). But after comparing these starts with others over this and last year, it seems that he is consistent (for more details on the definition of consistency and variability, please have a sneak peak at my previous post).

Nevertheless, we should bear in mind that FM is tall and heavy. This is pure mechanics. Heavier the body, more challenging is to change its motion (Newton´s First Law of motion). I plotted the reactions times against the body mass of the sprinters racing the final and semi-finals (Fig 1). We can see that the weights´ range is similar for finalists and semi-finalists. We have no conditions to state that one group is heavier than the other. However, on average the finalists are quicker on the block. The trend is the same if we are talking about reaction times during the heats, semi-finals or final. Good sprinters have a better reaction time. The effect of the body mass is less determinant for the finalists than semi-finalists (i.e. the slope of the trend line is higher for the semi-finalists than for the finalists). For a deeper insight on the relationship between the reaction time and the performance I invite you to read this paper and the interview delivered to this blog by the leading author.

The two circles represent FM (red is the reaction time during the final, orange during the semis). A couple of other swimmers have a weight similar to him, but poorer reaction times (We didn’t plot the prelim reaction time, as it was the same as his reaction time in the finals, this is also the case for other swimmers and why they aren’t plotted).

Based on this graph, you may think “a sprinter should be slim and light, so they have a quick reaction time”, but reaction time isn’t the only variable…

Another part of the equation of elite sprinting is anaerobic alactic power (AnAl). For a bout that takes 20-25s this is definitely the energetic pathway to be monitored. On top of that, the anaerobic alactic power is associated to lean mass (i.e. muscle power). So, one might be 0.01-0.03s slower on the blocks because is heavier, but all that muscle mass is most useful to produce power in the water.

Please understand that these last posts are prepared in a rush. I have no time to elaborate, add citations and edit the text several times before uploading it. For more details on the procedures to estimate the anaerobic alactic power, kindly refer to an earlier post. To estimate the parameter body mass for each swimmer is needed and unfortunately, I couldn’t find two swimmers body masses. Another limitation is the difference in weight listed online, compared to their actual race weight. We must use what is online, but realize this likely is incorrect.

In the 1990s, the aerobic, anaerobic lactic and anaerobic alactic contribution to total power at the 45.7m sprint (velocity: 1.97+/- 0.07m/s; average weight: 76.9kg) was reported as being 16.8, 58.2 and 24.9%. It remains to be answered if the figures are the same for world-ranked sprinters these days because anthropometrics & training method changed so much in the mean time. A paper published a couple of years ago recruited international level swimmers to perform the 200m Freestyle. They reported for the first split (0-50m) an anaerobic alactic power of 1.09 kW and a partial contribution of 41%. A 50-m freestyle is more complex than you may realize, as it is not 50m, but 2x25m. So, these are two bouts of approximately 8s (neglecting start and turns). We expected the anaerobic alactic power in these elite swimmers in the 50-m to be much higher than previously reported. The anaerobic alactic power that I got is way higher than anything else reported in the literature so far (table 1). Once again, this large difference is from the distance of the event (200m vs. 50m) and the skill level of the athletes (the most elite were the ones we tested).

During the semi-final, on average, the anaerobic alactic power was higher in the swimmers that moved on to the final (finalists: 3.714kW; semi-finalists: 3.515kW). If we compare the semi-final and the final for the first eight swimmers, the anaerobic alactic power also increases (semi-final: 3.714kW; final: 3.739kW). While FM and Marco Orsi (ITA) slightly increased their power from the semis to the final, two of the main contenders to a medal (Cesar Cielho Filho, BRA; Vladimir Morozov, RUS) slightly decreased their power. This decrease in power may explain why Cesar Cielho Filho and Vladimir Morozov had slower and slightly disappointing races.

Overall, this analysis demonstrates the complexity of the 50-meter freestyle. It also shows that reaction time is very dependent on athlete size. Also, it provides some insight, showing that anaerobic alactic power may contribute to overall 50-meter race time.

By Tiago M. Barbosa PhD degree recipient in Sport Sciences and faculty at the Nanyang Technological University, Singapore


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