In sprint races, time is so precious and fleeting that some parts of a swimmer’s repertoire can’t be accommodated.
“You can’t think,” Langley senior Chuck Katis said. “You just don’t have time.”
While he says they are not exactly his specialty, Katis has thought plenty about what makes a successful sprint – and has used all that thinking effectively. Not only has he swum the 50 breast more than second faster than anyone else in the area this summer (30.07 seconds) for Highlands of the Northern Virginia Swimming League, he also swam the second leg of Langley’s 200 medley relay team that set a national short-course record (1:45.38) at the Virginia AAA championships last February in Virginia Beach, and, the following month, finished second in the 50 breast at the NCSA Junior National Championships in Orlando.
Sprints, Katis said, are a unique challenge for swimmers because their brevity magnifies any mistakes. Unlike, say, a 200- or 400-meter race, in which a swimmer has the time to make up for a mistake with a strong lap or a prolonged burst, sprints don’t afford them the opportunity to do so.
“Really, in 25, 30 seconds, what can you do?” Katis said. “In the 200, you have time. You can use the first 50 to get yourself into the race. In the 50, you’ve got to be ready before they blow the whistle. Last week, I heard some people saying how they spend more than the hour before [the race] getting ready for a sprint.
“The 50 is a lot of adrenaline, but it’s also a lot more.”
Katis said the majority of his thinking occurs before the whistle – how he can maximize his dive into the water, how he can minimize the number of strokes.
The one thought that never enters his mind is what to do when a mistake happens. Unless a world record is set, no swimmer is ever fully content with his race, so there are inevitable moments when a stroke, kick, touch or turn isn’t right. In a longer race, swimmers might have a chance to register the mistake, consider what to do to make up for it, and then act it out.
“If you slip on the wall or on the touch, or if you hit the wall on a half-stroke and then you don’t get the full push off the wall, that can really hurt you,” Katis said. “But you’ve got to throw it out of your head.”
That’s because, in a sprint, there’s no time for that.
“The key to that is whenever I get a thought like this, I tell myself not to listen,” Katis said. “I’ve learned that the more you listen to that, the more you make mistakes.”
Katis said he often refers to Michael Phelps’ performance at the 2008 Summer Olympics when he set the world record in the 200 butterfly despite having his goggles fill with water the last half of the race.
“At that moment,” Katis said, “You just go with your instincts. You’re counting your strokes and trying to keep going. When you realize you messed something up, you try to do everything you can to make it up.
“But for a sprint, a lot if it comes from psyching yourself up from before you jump in.”
As he approaches the final few meters of a race, Katis said, especially in the breaststroke, leg power becomes paramount.
“People don’t understand how powerful your legs can be in the breaststroke,” he said. “That’s what the last few meters are all about.”
Even though he has eliminated the occasional slip in his stroke, tweaked the slightest contortion of his body, and found more fluidity with his finish, Katis still knows that, despite his top times, he is still far from completing his ideal sprint.
“If I correct one thing, there’s always one other thing I thought that could be better,” he said. “I’ve never had the perfect race.”
Tags: Michael Phelps