Ian Thorpe: “Everyone in the World is Swimming the 200 Freestyle Wrong” (Video)

Ian THORPE of Australia poses for a photo at his 50m outdoor training pool at the Centro sportivo nazionale della gioventu in Tenero, Switzerland, Friday, Sept. 9, 2011. (Photo by Patrick B. Kraemer / MAGICPBK)
Ian Thorpe - Photo Courtesy: Patrick B. Kraemer

Australian Swimming legend Ian Thorpe believes that his sensational 1:44.06 World record over 200 metres freestyle in 2001 remains one off the three most competitive four-length swims of the past two decades because “everyone in the world is swimming the 200 freestyle wrong.”

“You can’t swim 150 meters easy and then turn it into a sprint. You are going to limit what time you are going to do,” says Thorpe, Olympic 400m freestyle champion at Sydney 2000 and 200m and 400m gold medallist at Athens 2004.

Now 37, he believes that the only way the swimmer who cannot match the rare backend speed he managed to muster in his career can win the 200 freestyle in the kind of time he was capable of is to go for it the first 100 and be willing to make themselves hurt more to be “willing to deal with the pain that is going to exist the last 50 meters”.

In order to swim a 1:44, Thorpe believes swimmers will need to flip in a 50 point at the 100-meter mark, and he was able to get away with flipping in a 51 because he knew his back end speed. Ian Thorpe was a rare specimen two decades ago when he could perfectly mix speed and endurance to be nearly unbeatable across the 200 and 400 freestyle for six years. That model can be seen in the swims of the only two men ever to swim faster than Thorpe over 200m freestyle, Yannick Agnel, of France, and Michael Phelps, of the United States.

Ian Thorpe advocated up-front speed while talking on the podcast of his former teammate, Brett Hawke. The two discussed how the 200m freestyle, setting aside the shiny suits years of 2008 & 2009, has been relatively stagnant since Thorpe’s 1:44.06 all the way back at the 2001 World Championships.

Below is a chart of the splits of the 200 freestyle winner at the last five World Championships and two Olympic Games compared to Ian Thorpe’s best in 2001:

  • 2001: Ian Thorpe – 24.81, 51.45 (26.64), 1:18.26 (26.81), 1:44.06 (25.80)
  • 2007: Michael Phelps – 24.47; 51.00 (26.53); 1:17.73 (26.73); 1:43.86 (26.13)
  • 2011: Ryan Lochte – 24.53, 51.20 (26.67), 1:17.49 (26.29), 1:44.44 (26.95)
  • 2012: Yannick Agnel – 24.55, 50.64 (26.09), 1:17.16 (26.52), 1:43.14 (25.98)
  • 2013: Yannick Agnel – 24.07, 50.64 (26.57), 1:17.00 (26.36), 1:44.20 (27.20)
  • 2015: James Guy – 24.53, 50.99 (26.46), 1:18.33 (27.34), 1:45.14 (26.81)
  • 2016: Sun Yang – 24.87, 51.57 (26.70), 1:17.94 (26.37), 1:44.65 (26.71)
  • 2017: Sun Yang – 24.87, 51.10 (26.23), 1:17.45 (26.35), 1:44.39 (26.94)
  • 2019: Sun Yang – 24.97, 51.73 (26.76), 1:18.33 (26.60), 1:44.93 (26.60)

Compare all of that to the surviving world record of Germany’s Paul Biedermann, set in 2009 in full tiny suit – note that Biedermann is faster than any man in history on every length ever swum in a world-class 200m freestyle, reflecting the fact that between February 2008 and January 2010, swimming speed reflected the unprecedented impact of the non-textile apparel worn:

  • 2009: 24.23; 50.12 (25.89); 1:16.30 (26.18); 1:42.00 (25.70)

Thorpe’s best 200 freestyle time is still the third fastest all-time performance in textile (only Agnel and Phelps went faster). All suits, eight shiny suit times top his 1:44.06 best, while only one man in the last ten years has been able to swim faster than him. That was Yannick Agnel, who won the London 2012 Olympic gold medal in a blistering 1:43.14, the world textile best to this day. Agnel was the only swimmer to go under 1:44 as he followed the guidance of coach Fabrice Pellerin (and the pattern now advocated by Thorpe): go out in 50 point and be able to hold on to that through to the end.

Ian Thorpe’s best time in the 200 freestyle would have won gold at the last five World Championships. In the last ten years, only seven men have broken 1:45 from a flat start in the 200 freestyle. This goes to show how truly ahead of his time Ian Thorpe was.

Ian Thorpe on Inside With Brett Hawke:

  • Additional reporting: Craig Lord

 

99 comments

  1. Bold statement!
    But i think i see more and more tendences to really push more speed into it, right from the start!
    Chad LeClos is a great example of one who tries to push out, at higher speeds. You just know if he’s in a 200Free final, he’s gonna touch first at the turn.

    It’s tricky, but we’ll get there.
    I had my eyes on J.Guy/Dressel for Tokyo in the 200 free final. Somebody in that semifinal or final, would break that WR.
    Great speedsters. Would have been great results. Waiting in excitement for next few years, no doubt someone will crack the code! Sub ’41 in two years i reckon!

    • avatar
      Rene

      I remember someone telling me, top-swimmers will soon swim 45s in the 100F easily and maybe 44s on long course… that was in late 2010…

      sounds like your comment, pretty unrealistic looking at the stats and results from the last 10 yrs…

    • Monty Whipping Brogan

      Tue Zilmer Øhlenschläger do you see a chance for Guy ? Don’t get me wrong, I like the way he swims but …

    • Monty Whipping Brogan he won World Champs in 2015, out touching Sun Yang, LeClos, Mcevoy, biedermann.

      Absolutely he’s got a chance.

    • Some times things don’t fall in line but, when they do, he’s second to none.

      But i see some guys up there. Dressel for sure. But Duncan Scott, JG.. If one guy does it, then the rest will follow. 💪

    • Monty Whipping Brogan

      Tue Zilmer Øhlenschläger I remember and I absolutely liked is elegant freestyle.. but it was 2015 and since 5 Ye Arts he look so discontinuous.. We will see. Remaining anyway -in my opinion- the freestyle of Ian the most elegant and spectacular ever.

  2. Kyle Shadeck

    Interestingly I think Le Clos is one of the only current swimmers to emulate this philosophy. In Rio he took it out like a rocket, but died heavily coming home. I think he’s shyed away from that tactic since, but I bet if he pulled it back just a hair in the front and worked on that back half endurance he could regularly be posting 1:43s

    • avatar
      Tyson

      There’s a difference between going out fast and going out too fast Le clos needs to work on his pace if he wants to win gold. But I do agree with Thorpes statement, it worked for agnel he went out fast but not too fast, he paced himself right and destroyed the field he raced. Thorpes time compared to others may not be the best comparison because he wasn’t a front hand swimmer but if you look at the splits for then he was still one of the first at the 100m mark and we are talking a 19 year old time compared to times swam in the past 10 years

  3. Tim Johnson

    I agree with going out strong but it would be more compelling if Thorpes first 100 was faster than anyone else’s. His finishing 50 of 25.8 is still the fastest of those listed.

    • avatar
      Iris

      ….but probably becouse he wore a whole swimming suite that made him faster than the others… he had Great teqniqu but his speed is questionable.

      • avatar
        Andy Ross

        Thorpe was a 1:46.00 with a brief in 1999 so you can argue about the suit all you want but he backed it up without it.

  4. Darren Ward

    That’s fine if you want to set a world record… but if your looking to win world class races such as World Champs, Europeans, Pan Pacs and the Olympics then you needs to be a racer and adapt to the situation. That will always favour the “closer”

  5. Angie Shadduck

    How my daughter swims… Every coach has tried to change it and makes her race worst. They finally realize to just let her swim. She can hold it.

    • Heather York DiFulvio

      Brendan Smith I found out my son decided to swim the 400IM at State a few years ago, right after getting the qualifying time. When I told him I was surprised, he told me it was between that and 200 Free and “I’m NOT doing the 200!” 😂

  6. Mark Phillips

    I have always believed and coached a strong 3rd 50 strategy.

  7. Bob Perkins

    200y free at NCAAs has become an extended sprint… there are so many under 1.32 now!

  8. avatar
    Sam

    You should include Clyde Lewis 1.44 in 2019 . Very relevant .

  9. Jason Stegbauer

    I’m sure his former coach Tracey Menzies-Stegbauer could help any swimmers reach there potential.

  10. Jack P-Young

    I totally agree. Especially in the USA, our 200 guys are only good in short course yards because of all the turns. Plus sprinters are now only doing 50 and 100 because sprint freestyle has basically become an entirely separate stroke from what Thorpe and Phelps swam. So that leaves the 200 as the distance swimmers sprint event now and they are doing it wrong as Thorpe says because they won’t commit to the early speed.

  11. Jarrod Bell

    Sebastian Torales this is why you were shit at the 200

    • merci ! Intéressant ! 🙂 Ca me rappelle le 200B sur lequel j’ai tout donné parce que mon coach m’avait promis qu’il nagerait le 4004N aux Interclubs si je passais en finale A aux France. A 125m, je croyais mourir, à 150 j’en étais sûr et la dernière longueur était une question de survivre en sortant la tête de l’eau. Mais c’est passé 😀 En allant à la récup, mes bras étaient tellement lourds que j’ai dû balancer à partir du tronc pour remettre mes lunettes et plonger. Donc je crois que je vois bien de quoi parle Thorpe quand il dit qu’il faut affronter la douleur du dernier 50 😉 Merci à Frédéric Barale pour cette course mémorable.

    • Frédéric Barale

      Je te rappelle que le 400 4N a été long et dur du début à la fin, d’ailleurs il a été mon dernier…

  12. Jon Stubbins

    That’s where I’ve been letting myself down Kelly Stubbins 😉

  13. Gary Vandermeulen

    Once swimmers maximise the 15m rule, a sub 1:40 will be achieved regularly

    • Pawel Grubas

      Jacek Mocki wszystko się zgadza! Bez prędkości i bólu na ostaniej 50 nie da się wygrać 200😀

  14. avatar
    Cian Walsh

    This is not disssimilar to what Karsten Warholm has been doing the past few years in the 400m hurdles – go out fast and hard and try to keep it up ! Right balance of speed and endurance, and mental toughness to bring it home in the final stretch💪

  15. Neil Morgan

    It’s only been stagnant because the supersuits aren’t being used, so the swimmers have been playing catch up. Thorpe would never have managed the times he did if he wasn’t wearing the suit, so if it wasn’t for the change in equipment, his times would be well down the list by now.

    • Ryan Van Der Walt

      Neil Morgan the suit Thorpe was wearing wasn’t even very good, it was an early adidas one that he had to wear due to sponsorship. It was worse than speedo suits at the time and far worse than the ‘super suit’ era. Had he been still swimming during that time i have no doubt he would have gone close to sub 1.42.

      • avatar
        Old School

        Sorry, Neil. The Speedo FS2’s were actually shown years later to slow swimmers down because they absorbed so much water (being a textile) and the Addidas that Thorpe wore was even worse because it had sleeves. Thorpe was incredible and scary to think what he could have gone without wearing that burlap sack of a suit.

    • Vic Stawik

      Mmm I don’t think that’s true. Ian is the master of free

    • avatar
      Craig Lord - Swimming World Editor-in-Chief

      I think that unlikely, Neil, and in some respects of your comment, not so at all. A. the bodysuit he swam in was textile – it may have helped a slither but no more than most other suits and some who used those full body suits in textile were slower and opted not to use them. That was never the case with shiny suits: all went faster, some helped way more than others in a complete skew of the sport. B. Thorpe swam a 1:44.97 without the bodysuit. That would still be 10th best all-time in textile, taking out all his own times set in a bodysuit – and all of them within 1sec of that non-bodysuited effort. There were a couple of 1:45s in briefs, too. You’re way off the mark to suggest ‘only been stagnant because the supersuits’ not in use. Phelps and then Agnel showed the way beyond Thorpe’s best in textile by doing precisely what Thorpe is recommending to others…

    • Kate Hauck

      Neil Morgan you need to look up times he did in training togs then. I think one was an official 3.41 400 free in trainers aged 16 or 17 .

  16. David Moreno

    Did they add or take a lap off I didn’t know if? I always swam it with the mind frame you build up speed while keeping a strong kick and pull. By the time I’m at the last 50 i usually don’t sprint but am trying hard.

  17. Rob Duguay

    I think the fly and die strategy works better for distance swimmers who don’t fall off as much. Thorpe was a 400m Guy as well so he could back half.

  18. Gill Chard

    Emma Chard what’s your opinion ? This was your race🧡💙

    • Emma Chard

      Gill Chard I agree with him. You gotta go out fast but at a controlled speed and then turn it over the 3rd 50 then race it home. Therefore why it’s one of the hardest events to race and train.

  19. Mark Haworth

    First 100 hard. 3rd lap all out. 4th lap whatever remains

  20. James Rounce

    Interesting article about how to swim 200 free and relevant to all race swimmers 🏊🏻‍♂️

  21. Kathryn Newberry

    The conundrum with every mid distance swim… How strong do you go out? Go out strong and hope you can hold it, or hold something back in the tank so you can push harder in the last 50?

  22. Jim Liguori

    In my brief stint as an age group coach, it became obvious to me developing leg and core endurance (not just strength) is the key to racing.

    You need the legs to give you lift and baseline propulsion. The arms are more for coordinating your breathing, the added propulsion is a, significant, side effect.

  23. Emily Campbell

    I think I knew that. That’s why I hated middle distance. Long distance for life

  24. William Wheeler

    I totally agree with Ian. You’ve got to go out fast to get a fast time.

  25. Peter Scott

    Nope……you want a fast time you pace it evenly with consideration for the dive this will mean the first 100m will be slightly faster on the clock…however the overall swim speed per m should be as even as possible

    • Steve Cox

      Peter Scott How many Olympic Medals do you have? Ian Thorpe is an all time great. The reason is that people who stand out think and train differently from the masses. Michael Andrew is another example. I’m not saying your opinion is wrong either but to dismiss his knowledge and proven experience would be foolish.

    • Peter Scott

      Steve Cox hi Steve, no Olympic medals like the majority of coaches and swimmers😊 my opinion only but even Ian didn’t swim the 200m they way he is recommending so I will go with that rather than saying he swam it wrong

    • Evan Townsend

      Peter Scott The 200m is a sprint. A paced sprint, but a sprint. The best race strategy is get out fast and have the testicular fortitude to finish strong.

    • Peter Scott

      Evan Townsend Agreed you have to go out fast but you also have to have the ability to bring it back just as strong. Chad Le Clos tried it at the Olympics and came up short, would he have won if he had held back a tad in the first 100? In my opinion yes…..

  26. Winner Pakawat Sa-Nguansap

    Agreed with Ian. Going out fast, to build that high aerobic base. Then training the anaerobic strength of the last 50 to finish home (with that fast pace 1st 100).

    Train safe, get safe results lol. Train with big risk, get big rewards.

  27. avatar
    JimSwims

    There is nothing more painful than the last 50 of a 200 when the first 100 was over swum. But there is no greater feeling when you are able hold on.

  28. Deanna Nicholls

    Charles Barry I cannot even fathom doing those splits speeds….

  29. Johnny Karnofsky

    And he hasn’t had the world record since 2001….. he was great, but his time is in the past…..

  30. Johnny Karnofsky

    This should be said about the women’s 200m fly…… the WR set by Mary T Meagher in 1981 is still among the world’s fastest times……. that time would have won many races even more recent than 2010.

  31. Steve Roth

    I disagree… back end speed is not determined by being “a rare specimen”. And it’s not determined by front end speed. It’s determined by HOW you get your front end speed. Training and Strategy, Strategy being Stroke Rate vs Stroke Length. Stroke Rate Speed will produce higher levels of Lactic Acid, thus reducing back end speed. Underwaters will also impact backend speed, as CO2 is also an acid.

  32. Johnny Karnofsky

    Races greater than 100m are all about pacing…. enough to be in the hunt for the win at the end AND finish strong. Phelps was amazing at that, keeping within 1/2 body length throughout the race and then reeling in the leaders at the end……

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