A Tale Of Two Milers

Sun Yang, the reigning Olympic and World Champion in the 1500 LCM Freestyle, arguably has one of the most consistent strokes in all of swimming.  As my friend Casey Barrett stated, Yang’s stroke looks like it is timed to a metronome when watching, particularly in this video, and it translates well into his events has he broke the world record at the 2012 Olympics with a time of 14:31.02 and continued his distance dominance at the 2013 World Championships with a time of 14:41.15

On the other hand, Ryan Cochrane, the runner-up to Yang at both the 2012 Olympics and 2013 World Championships, has a stroke that is quite the opposite, as he relies more on turnover for speed as opposed to power for Yang.  Still, it has worked out well for Cochrane as he swam a 14:39.63 at the 2012 Olympics and 14:42.28 at the 2013 World Championships.

But when I watch the two races (2012 Olympics, 2013 World Championships), I can’t help but wonder who really has the most effective stroke for their body type and style of swim.  In other words, how much does the weight and height of each swimmer affect their stroke count throughout the entire 1500 meters?

 To answer this question, first I broke down all four races across the two competitions, to develop an average split and stroke count per lap:

Exhibit 1
Split and Stroke Count Analysis
Please note that all data is formatted as: Sun Yang Info / Ryan Cochrane Info


  • 1500 LCM Freestyle Time: 14:31.02 / 14:39.63

  • Average Split (50M): 29.03 / 29.32

  • Final 100M (50/50): 27.81 + 25.68 = 53.49 / 28.51 + 27.42 = 55.93

  • Total Stroke Count: 813 / 1,047

  • Average Stroke Count (50M): 27 / 35


  • 1500 LCM Freestyle Time: 14:41.15 / 14:42.28

  • Average Split (50M): 29.37 / 29.42

  • Final 100M (50/50): 27.37 + 27.11 = 54.48 / 28.40 + 27.51 = 55.91

  • Total Stroke Count: 812 / 1,067

  • Average Stroke Count (50M): 27 / 36

In summary, Ryan Cochrane was less than 1% slower than Yang at the 2012 Olympics, but took 29% more strokes.  Then again in 2013, he was only 0.15% slower than Yang but took 31% more strokes.  Now those numbers are not too surprising if you watched the videos, but in order to really understand their efficiency we need to compare the stroke counts with the individual body weight of the swimmers.

On that note, let’s compare their races on a relative basis using their body height and weight:

Exhibit 2
Body Weight and Height Analysis
Please note that all data is formatted as: Sun Yang Info / Ryan Cochrane Info

For this analysis, it would be helpful if you understand the following terms:

  • Body Lengths / Lap = (50 Meters) / (Swimmers Height), represents the number of times a swimmer needs to transfer their body across a single lap

    • (Note: 50 Meters = ~1,968 inches)

  • Pounds / Lap = (Body Weight) x (Body Lengths/Lap), represents the amount of weight that a swimmer needs to transfer in a single lap

  • Pounds / Stroke = (Pounds/Lap) / (Average Stroke Count), represents the amount of weight transferred per stroke in a single lap

And I know Google is not always the greatest source, but for simplicity purposes it says that Sun Yang and Ryan Cochrane are:

  • Height (inches): 78 / 76

  • Weight (pounds): 198 / 176

Which means in a 1500 LCM freestyle race, that:

  • Body Lengths / Lap: 25.23 / 25.89

  • Pounds / Lap: 4,996 / 4,557

Therefore, in order to understand exactly how much weight each swimmer pulls per stroke at each competition, we will look at the Pound per Stroke and % of Body Weight pulled by each swimmer:


  • Pound / Stroke: 184.3 / 130.6

  • % of Body Weight: 93.1% / 74.2%


  • Pound / Stroke: 184.6 / 128.1

  • % of Body Weight: 93.2% / 72.8%


In summary, not only is Sun Yang a more consistent swimmer, practically swimming the same race in 2012 and 2013 from a stroke count perspective, he is also a much more efficient swimmer capable of pulling 93% of his body weight with each stroke, where Cochrane fluctuates from 74% to 72%.

Without a change in stroke count for Cochrane, it does not appear he will be able to beat Yang at his best.  Yang’s race strategy and stroke count allow him to store more energy in the reserve tank, which is one of the reasons he can bring home his final 100M up to 4.5% faster than Cochrane.  Unless Cochrane can move ahead by at least two seconds, which is on average how much Yang out-split’s him on the final 100M, he will not be able to hold off Yang’s speed for the win.

Author: Elliot Meena

Published: June 15th, 2014

Source: NBC Olympics, Omega Timing