Swimming fast under pressure is harder than it looks

Bram Montgomery

Happy Friday 👋,

Olympic Trials are happening in a few different places across the globe.

And there have been some monster performances so far.

Taylor McKeown breaking the world record in the 100m backstroke.

Michael Andrew’s 58.14 in the 100m breaststroke to punch his first ticket to the Olympics.

Ariarne Titus blasting a 3:56.90 in the 400m freestyle.

And so on.

(And it’s just the beginning of the week… and just a taste of the super fast swimming we are going to see in Tokyo! Oooooohhh baby I am excited.)

But there was another number that stood out.

Looking at the first wave of US Olympic Trials and the early days of wave two, a significant number of swimmers were not going best times.

Less than 20%, actually.

And this isn’t an aberration.

According to USA Swimming, at their 2016 Trials, just 14% of women and 22% of men swam faster in prelims than their seed times.

The situation was largely the same in 2012.

During one session at those Trials, only 23% of swimmers went best times.

This number remained the same even when you took out the swimmers who were “coasting” through prelims and not necessarily going for best times (i.e. the Ryan Lochtes, Michael Phelps’, Missy Franklins, etc).

This number holds true at other high level meets like NCAA Championships.

At 2013 NCAA’s, a quick look at one session showed less than 20% of swimmers going PB’s.

There are a lot of reasons for these numbers.

Some swimmers have “peaked” and haven’t gone a best time in a while.

Some swimmers are simply happy to be there.

And some swimmers, well, they cave under the pressure.

Swimming fast at practice is one thing, swimming fast under pressure is another.

Top US swimmers have often talked about the pressure cauldron that is Trials.

And that in some ways, it was tougher than the Games themselves.

(Caeleb Dressel admits that the most nervous he’s ever been for a race was the 100m freestyle at the 2016 Trials.)

Which is why elite swimmers, the ones who want to be ready to swim their best under pressure, prepare for it.

🔑  Missy Franklin did, by visualizing each step of the racing experience, from the pre-race nerves to how she would feel in the water.

🔑  Michael Phelps did it, by rehearsing everything that could go right and wrong, so that he’d be prepared for anything.

🔑 Elizabeth Beisel did it by constantly reminding herself that she deserved to be there and had worked hard to earn her place on the block.

🔑 And Caeleb Dressel does it, by using a tailored pre-race routine that includes external self-talk, purposeful breathing, and journaling out anxieties.

Swimming fast is hard.

Swimming fast under pressure is even harder.

- Article by Olivier Leroy, author and creator of Conquer the Pool: The Swimmer’s Ultimate Guide to a High-Performance Mindset which is an excellent resource for swimmers of all ages and abilities.