The first day of any international championship is always exciting, especially when the first finals event is an anticipated showdown between rivals Sun Yang and Mack Horton. It became even more interesting with a twist from Felix Aubock of Austria, surprising everyone in prelims of the mens 400 freestyle event, as he secured the top seed position going into finals. Everyone was wondering where he had come from, considering his less than top 20 finish in Rio was just over a year prior, and his entry rank for this event not in the top 8 at all.
All eyes were on this race heading into finals this evening; would Aubock hold the lead against his experienced competitors, would Yang relinquish his title allowing someone new to come out on top, and how will Horton perform, being seeded 5th going into the race.
In this first 50m, Horton and Detti had the same split time, speed, and walls, however Detti took 4 extra strokes, costing valuable energy in this first length. Park had a great start, finishing first at the 50m mark, with the third highest stroke index, he is poised for a successful race. Technically, Yang swam the most efficient first length, but his underwater time was the shortest, causing him to finish 2 100ths of a second behind Park. After the first 50m, it seems Aubock and Detti could benefit from stroke efficiency, while Yang could lengthen his break out.
At the 100m mark, Park is still in first, but Yang is very close behind. Horton is maintaining a lower stroke count than the rest, with the highest efficiency. If he could speed up his stroke count even slightly, while maintaining his stroke rate, he would be well positioned to lead this race. Detti has fallen behind, tied with Aubock, who is taking the most strokes, but has the slowest speed. If he could increase his DPS and maintain the stroke count, it would be a very different race for him.
As we hit the 150m mark, Yang has taken the lead, with Park still very close on his heels. Both are swimming very similar races, with short underwaters and identical DPS. If Park can just slip one extra stroke in, without losing speed, he'd pull ahead at this point. Detti is showing signs of fatigue; his stroke count continues to rise, while his DPS and speed fall. He should work on lengthening his stroke to conserve his energy for the latter part of the race. Aubock got through this length losing minimally on all metrics, if he is able to maintain this level of consistency through the balance he could be ok, but if he continues to lose pace at this rate, he may be in trouble.
With half the race behind them, Yang continues to dominate on all fronts. Horton and Park swam basically identical lengths again here, but Park has the lower stroke rate, allowing him to come in slightly faster than Horton. Dettie and Aubock are again tied for 4th place, and basically matching each other on stroke count, speed and walls. Aubock is getting considerably more distance per stroke, which is allowing him to maintain pace with the pack.
After 250m, the gap widens between Yang and the rest of the field, even in the face of Horton showing a stronger length in terms of efficiency. Park is starting to lose pace at this point, his endurance not able to maintain through the duration of this race. He is still ahead of Detti here, but is slowing down much faster than previous lengths. Both Detti and Aubock had better splits than the previous couple lengths. It is certainly interesting timing for a burst of energy, let’s see if they can maintain the faster pace for the last 150m of this race.
With 100m left to go, Yang is still out in front, but Detti actually registers the fastest split this length. While technically, he is still the least efficient, his high stroke count is working in his favour, similar to Ledecky's style of racing. Aubock is unable to maintain the burst of speed he showed in the last 50m, slightly losing ground on the field at this point again. Horton has remained very consistent throughout the entire race, his stroke count only climbing by 2 strokes in the first 2 lengths consecutively, then remaining while all other competitors rates rose. At this point showing the technically most efficient stroke, saving himself valuable energy for the last 100m.
Yang is reducing his reach per stroke, but is gaining speed as he rounds the corner toward the end of this race. He is pulling from the reserves of an efficient stroke to distance himself from the rest of the field as the race nears the end. Detti too is pulling from reserves, which didn't appear to exist a few lengths ago. He is proving his endurance is stronger than it seemed earlier in this race. Park and Aubock continue to slow at the 350m mark, at this point Park is swimming the slowest split, offering room for Aubock to potentially pull into 4th place. If he could lengthen his breakouts he wouldn't lose as much speed each race.
In this final lap, Park comes in the strongest, showing his experience in the race, and pulling well ahead of Aubock, who performed quite well through the entire race. Yang's final lap is the second fastest of the race, with a much less efficient stroke. He has clearly conditioned himself for this type of race. Horton's steady pace throughout has proven a good strategy for him, allowing him to finish 2nd. If he can increase his stroke count while maintaining the other metric, he will come much closer to Yang, who finished a solid 2.5 seconds ahead of the crowd. Similar to Yang, Detti swims his second faster length in this last 50m. His best shot at the gold would be to improve his speed through those middle lengths, likely while maintaining the high stroke count - this strategy seems to work for him.
All competitors swam relatively similar races, with Detti showing the biggest difference with a much higher stroke rate than the rest. Yang and Park spent the least time underwater, which isn't much of an issue for them, as they both have significant reserves to pull in their times come the end of the race. Aubock swam a race similar to Detti's high stroke rate, although not as high as Detti, his stroke was technically inefficient. Pair this with lower endurance, due to lack of experience, and it's clear how he went from a 1st place seed to 5th against these experienced veterans of the championship circuit. Overall, a very successful race, proving once again that strategy has to be very personal, and can differ significantly through each portion of a race of this length.
For a summary of all our analysis over this competition, check out the Lessons Learned.
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