Ilya Shymanovich Breaststroke is Unconventional But Legal

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Ilya Shymanovich -- Photo Courtesy: Mine Kasapoglu / ISL

Ilya Shymanovich Breaststroke is Unconventional But Legal

The best male breaststroker during the ISL season was Ilya Shymanovich, the 27-year-old Belarusian representing Energy Standard. Over the course of the season, Shymanovich recorded 16 individual wins, with six of those coming in the 100 breast plus five each in the 50 breast and 200 breast. He held the season’s top time in all three races, and lowered his own world record in the 100 breast, first to 55.32 and then to 55.28. At the recent European Short Course Championships, he matched the world record in the 50 breast.

However, questions have emerged as to the legality of Shymanovich’s breaststroke. He barely pauses his arms at the front end of the stroke, eschewing the smooth glide that has been a staple of breaststroke throughout swimming’s history. There is no legality issue with that technique, although it is unconventional. But Shymanovich swims a power-based stroke where he muscles the water. It’s very effective for him, particularly in short course.

The questionable part of his stroke is the kick. From most camera angles, it’s hard to identify the outward motion in Shymanovich’s breaststroke kick.

According to the USA Swimming rulebook (which mirrors FINA’s), the requirements for the breaststroke kick include: “The feet must be turned outwards during the propulsive part of the kick. Scissors, alternating movements or downward butterfly kicks are not permitted except as provided herein (i.e., one dolphin kick allowed during the pullout). Breaking the surface of the water with the feet is allowed unless followed by a downward butterfly kick.”

Take a look at the video from Shymanovich’s most recent world record swim Friday. Clearly, the kick makes a downward motion, which can be seen in one underwater shot around 1:45. His feet barely turn out, but it appears that he does just enough to lead his kick with the side of his foot rather than pointed toes. If he successfully accomplishes that, then the kick is not a dolphin kick (even if there is a dolphin motion in the stroke) and his breaststroke is legal. There is no readily-available video that shows otherwise.

In almost every case, the extremely narrow kick that Shymanovich performs is not as propulsive as more traditional, wider kicks, but that’s not a concern for swimmers with that stroke technique. The narrow kick minimizes resistance while the power comes from the upper body. Breaststroke is all about creating power while minimizing resistance, and for many upper-body driven swimmers, that formula works — particularly in short course sprint breaststroke.

Compare that style to a video of an elite field in the long course 200 breaststroke, like the one below from this year’s U.S. Olympic Trials. Here, you will see the opposite style: long glide, wider kick, less upper-body force in each stroke.

The knock on Shymanovich throughout his recent run of success in the ISL and in other short course races is that he has not managed to convert that success to long course, and that’s accurate. This year, he placed eighth in the 100 breast Olympic final, a full two seconds behind gold medalist Adam Peaty. Peaty also swims a high-tempo, short-glide narrow-kick breaststroke but not to the same extreme extent as Shymanovich.

Breaststroke is a far different stroke short course to long course, in part because of the extra pullouts present in the short course format but also because the extra turns provide enough of a break for swimmers. That means pure upper-body strength can be a formula for success, and the efficiency necessary for a long course 100 or 200-meter breaststroke race matters less in the 25-meter course.

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Olga
9 months ago

Strange… when special some one like Russia start to be winning, same time starting search technical problems, omg … just seat down and enjoy the show

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James
9 months ago
Reply to  Olga

Shymanovich is from Belarus, not Russia. Russia has some of the best breaststrokers in the world (Prigoda, Chikunova) and no one has a problem with them.

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Sovyet Sub
9 months ago

50 watts per channel, Babycakes.