Training Katie Ledecky to a World Record in the 1500 by Bruce Gemmell, Nation’s Capital Swim Club (2013)


Okay thank you, Steve.  So I listened to David Marsh talk this morning and he talked about presentations with intent and content and I started to think about my own.  And I thought well there is some content in there so that will be helpful and there is some intent in there so that will be helpful.  And yesterday, it was all about relationships, and there is a little bit in there about relationships.  So either I have got a well-rounded presentation or I have got a little bit of nothing all over the place.  You will have to be the judge of that.


I put this slide up here.  John asked me to speak actually when I was still over in Barcelona; sent me an e-mail: would I be willing to come to the clinic and speak.  Of course I said sure I would love to, and went away with that.  And then started thinking about what I wanted to talk, or how I wanted to talk about it.  I said well, I had better look and see what they have put in the program.  So I pulled this out of the program, and I do not think any of it fits.  It says this is the Senior track.  When I think of “Senior swimmers”, I think of our post-grads, our college swimmers, people who have all kinds of resources available to them.  And we are not like that.  I am from a club team, we fight for pool time, I teach 10&Unders some of the time, I deal with parents most of the time, and all that stuff.  So I do not consider this like a high-level Senior track presentation.


And then I looked at it again and it says Training Katie Ledecky to a World Record in the 1500. My only problem with that is we did not train for the 1500 this year, and I say that seriously.  We did not focus on the 1500, we did not talk about the 1500, really until after the fact almost.  So if you are looking how to do 1500 swimmers, either because of what we did or in spite of what we did, we got a pretty good 1500 out of it.


So I started thinking to myself: What makes the world-class athlete?  What attributes do all of our world-class swimmers have?  And I think all of us would not agree on everything up here but probably most of us would agree on four or five of them.

  • Most of them have a natural feel for the water, and so many of them are good at lots of different events. You think of Michael [Phelps], you think of Ryan [Lochte], you think of Natalie [Coughlin], you think of Missy [Franklin]—and somehow Teri is going to make her an IMer—and they are good at lots of different events.
  • Historically, I have always thought distance swimmers could pull. I have had some other distance swimmers in the past who certainly could pull faster than they could swim; loved pulling, went at it all the time.
  • Kicking is key for all our swimmers these days. I think most of us would agree with that one.
  • So many of them are blessed with great physical tools. Either size, feet, wingspan, flexibility or something like that.
  • And they have a lot of athletic ability and I think our swimmers are becoming more and more athletic.


So I took these and I thought: Okay, now how can these apply to Katie?  I do not consider that she has a really great natural feel for the water.  Those times up-there are… those are her best 200 times in back, breast and fly.  She can sort of fake a 400 IM, and only because I think it is 400-long.  But it is not like she has got a great feel for you know any and everything that we do.  She has not swum some of those in a rest-and-save type of thing for a while, so she might be a little better than that.  But it is not something that comes natural to her.


She really cannot pull.  And that is one that I really have not figured out yet.  I give her a paddle and a buoy, and I expect her to be able to go and go and go and go.  And she goes and goes back to the back of the lane and has lots of people going in front of her.  In all honesty, that is one that I have not figured out yet, because looking at her swim you would think she would be able to pull but she is not very good at it.


Kicking is a little bit better; not much.  You know 10×100 on 1:20, that is not going to happen.  She is going to make about two, maybe three, and then she is going to miss the interval.  If we go 10 best average on 1:30, she is going to be in that 1:17-1:18 range.  She is an average kicker; maybe a little better than average, but she is an average kicker.


She is not a gifted athlete.  Three unassisted pull-ups is not going to happen.  Running a nine-minute mile is not going to happen.  And I am not even going to try 18-inch box jumps with her.  Our biggest moment this past summer is when she slipped and fell on the pool deck, and scraped up her ankle and banged it up and everything.  The whole reason she was not doing what the rest of the team was doing is because I was afraid she would get hurt if she did that.  So that is where we are from that standpoint.


And physical tools, I will give her a B.  She is about 5’11”.  And I know some of us were coaching you know girls that are 5’4” and guys that are 5’8”, so 5’11” is pretty good.  But if you look at her up here with members of the 800 Free Relay team, the US team, she is clearly the shortest of the four.  And if you look at the three medal winners in both the 800 and the 1500, she is the shortest of the three.  So it is not something that is a big plus for her.  She has size 10 feet; that is the average—I think Missy is running at size 13 or size 14 or something like that.


Roll it all together, and there we have got a world-class athlete.  We are all pretty impressed at this point.  And I say that just so you sort of understand where we are coming from.  Now there are some things, obviously, that she does really well, or some skills that she has or some environments that have been created.  So let us look at a couple of those strengths.


We have a very competitive training group where we swim.  We have about twenty Senior athletes that are in it.  When I say Senior, I mean in our top Senior training group; they were all young this past year.  I got there in the Fall and I asked how many of them drove and nobody raised their hands—so none of them are old enough to drive in our Senior training group.  At the end of the short course season, we had a 4:27, 4:30, 4:31, 4:33 and 4:34, 500 swimmers in the group.  And if you look down, only one of them happens to be a female.  And she fits right in with that training group, and it is very competitive.  And I think those of us that have had good competitive training groups in the past recognize that is the very key to our success.


On any given day, one or two of them might be really good, one or two of them might be really bad.  They take a lot of pride in racing each other.  Even when Katie was over at the World Championships in Barcelona and the boys were back home at our Senior championship meet, the competition was who could beat who in what events.  When Katie broke 4:00 in the 400 free, she boasted that she beat the boys at home.  It had nothing do with winning a World Championship or whatever; it was like I beat Brian and Gavin back at home.  That was a big deal.  And then one of them went to Juniors and went I think 3:58 or 3:57, so she was bummed-out about that. But it makes for a really good competitive training group.  And I would like… you know we will sit down and hopefully we can get four or five of them under 4:30 this next year.


This might be cliché, but it is so important to Katie and it is really at the core of her and what she does: she has tremendous family support.  And for every kid out there that has parents that are meddling or parents that are in the way, she has wonderfully supportive parents.  You know they have been supportive of me, they have been helpful to the family; everything they could possibly do.  They just sort of ask me where are we going, when for meets, so I can schedule that; what time does she need to be at practice, what else can we do.  They go to her meets and support her but do not meddle at all.  That is her brother on her left-hand side there; I guess he is a sophomore in college now.  And the family support she has is tremendous.  So for all of you that are out there with people that do not have that, there are some that do have it and when it works it really does work.


And then I would say her greatest strength is that she is a fiercely competitive and goal-oriented.  And we will talk more of that little bit later.  But whether it is, as the saying goes, tiddlywinks or racing, anything else, she is fiercely competitive, she is very goal oriented.  I think that was a key part of our progress this past year—and we will talk about that in a minute.  And I think that will serve her very well going forward when you think about what path we might take from here.


I am going to talk a little bit about training Katie this past year.  Those of you that came for content, maybe this is the content part; there is a little bit more intent later, I think.  I walked-in to training the group when the season had already been started; it was early October, I guess.  Katie had taken a little bit of time off after the Olympics, but was back in the water two or three weeks.  And we just stuck with some basic aerobic endurance work for those first few weeks.


After that I went on a weekly cycle that worked for us this past year.  And we are not going to do it again next year because I am not foolish enough to think that it would necessarily work again.  Circumstances would not necessarily let us do it; as a club program, we are constantly battling changes to our scheduling as such.  But we would do the weekly cycle for about 8 or 12 weeks and then we would go rest for a meet.  When I say rest, I mean three days rest, and we will look at that in a minute here.


The energy cycle, the weekly cycle, most of it is Jon Urbanchek’s work.  When I was preparing for this presentation, I threatened to steal exactly his presentation from 1995 and just put it up here and see who would remember it or know the difference.  But a lot of it is very similar.  There is some of Dave Salo’s influence in there, and I did not even realize it until we were partway through the season how much it was.  Whether it was the terminology, or the long sprint.  I mean we would come in every day, you know the long sprinters over there, short sprinters over here; talked about the mile being a sprint, the 800 being the sprint.  So his influence is in there.  I sort of blended it altogether the best I could.  And then I go back to my roots sometimes and put some Dick Shoulberg work in there.  And when I say Dick Shoulberg work, those of us in the room that have been around a while know that Dick Shoulberg work is Dick Shoulberg work.  I rely on all those guys not only on their historical work that I have—I have years and years of their workouts—but if I come across a stumbling block whether I call him up on the phone or send them an e-mail, whatever, to ask for some input.


And then it turned-out this past year, and I will get to it in a minute, that we rested about three days, three times during the course of the season.  Got pretty good results until I screwed up the last one.  And then at the very end, we went sort of a traditional three-week taper.


We only swam seven times in the water, most weeks.  The reason I say most weeks is, like I said, every week was different.  We get kicked-out of our pool when they have a high school dual meet; we get kicked out of the pool when they have graduation ceremonies, when they have homecoming, when they have board of directors meeting.  So I had to juggle things almost every week.  Almost all of them were short course yards.  There was a couple of times in the Fall and in the Spring where we sneaked in a Sunday morning long course, and we were able to sneak in some long course training over her spring break—we went to a separate facility.


Dryland is something that was new to Katie this year.  She had done very little of it in the past, by design.  I give Yuri [Suguiyama] a huge amount of credit: he did not push her into it.  We started out with two dryland sessions a week for an hour each, and by the end of the year we went to three dryland sessions.  Obviously, spaced nicely throughout the week.


There probably was not a typical week; every week was a little bit different.  Maybe that helped keep it fresh, I am not sure. (Maybe you can read most of that.)  If we had a typical week during the school year, this is what it looked like, okay.

  • We got up Monday morning and did dryland. We have to go offsite to do our dryland; we do not have any facilities right there.  So the kids drive to a fitness center, I meet them there, we have some dryland experts who meet us there, and they go for an hour before school.
  • Monday afternoon we would go with long colors, threshold. I am sure most of you in the room know Jon and his long colors and how they work.  And we would go between 8,000 and 10,000 yards that night.
  • Tuesday morning we were off.
  • Tuesday afternoon we would come back into active rest or easy/fast—which ever terminology you are comfortable with.
  • Wednesday morning was the only morning we swam regularly throughout the course of the year. It was usually a skill morning: kicking, toys as I like to call it which were usually power-oriented, ‘chutes or cords, that type of thing.  90 minutes before school.  Our kids have to be out of the water and moving towards school by 6:30, so we get them in little before 5:00 so that they can get out at 6:30.
  • Wednesday afternoon we would come in and do VO2 Max, lactate.


If we were going to do IM work, I would do it on Wednesday, or Friday or both, with her, Monday, Tuesday, Thursday were almost always all freestyle; Wednesday and Friday were a chance to do IM and do stroke.  I think that is really important for them to do, to break it up.  And I did that more by feel than anything else.  I did not say: two weeks worth of IM or two weeks worth of weak stroke.  I looked at how the Tuesday practice ended up and thought whether she needed a break from it or not.


Then we pretty much went back on the same cycle for the next three days:

  • Go dryland Thursday morning.
  • We would go short colors on Thursday afternoon. You know, repeat colors of 150 down, that type of thing.
  • Saturday morning was sort of our catch all—as so many of us use it for. Sometimes we do lactates, other times we do some over-distance work.  I do not mean like crazy over-distance like some others used to do in the 70s and 80s, but we might do something where we were going a 3,000 or 5,000 straight swim.  Now it would not just be: hop in and go 3,000-5,000 straight.  It might be 100-200-300-400-500-500-400-300-200-100 IMs, sprint your weak stroke on the way up and your strong stroke on the way down.  Something like that, where they are changing speeds.  We would usually catch that on Saturday morning.
  • And as I said, Sundays, at various times of the year we would go and swim long course; or it was an off day.


And that was the schedule we rolled with for most of the year.  I would love to say that it changed over the Summer, but we are not out of school like so many others until the third week of June.  And by then, we were heading to World Championships Trials, so we really did not have a different Summer training program.


Those of you after content, this is the best I am going to do on it, okay.  Threshold Monday, long colors, 200 and up.  Threw a sample set in there.  It is not pure.  I could have used one of Jon’s and done better, but it is one that we did at some point during the year.

  • 3×100 cruise,
  • 300 pink. For Katie that was 2:58.  She is pretty good about hitting that.
  • 3×100 on 1:05, cruise. And cruise is almost intentionally vague term I use with the kids.  You know I use cruise, I use moderate.  I use… what other ones?  When it is sort of between pink and white, if are into the colors.  But I do not want them to feel threatened or really being held with a gun for at certain time
  • And then a 300 descent at the end. She would start at 2:58 and descend from there.

You get rolling through five rounds of that, it is 6,000 yards.  And by the end, that fifth one is pretty tough to hit on the descend, when I force them to start.  And the good thing is as I have got four or five kids in the water they really have the same guidelines; they have to start at certain pace and descend from there.


Short threshold on Thursday would look something like this, okay.  Where the real work was in the 150s, the 100s, the 25s.  It would not be unusual for me to make the 25s fast kicking, either within the set or at the end.  I thought that was really important for Katie to make sure she had the legs at the end of the races this summer.  And certainly that worked out for her.  About 45 minutes in length there.


Easy/fast or active rest, Tuesday, Friday.  Same type of thing, okay, except there is the 50s in between after most of the repeats.  Really trying to get her and the whole group going a lot of swims at race pace or faster.  And sometimes I would think to myself I don’t know how many different ways there are to do 55- and 54-second 100s.  I mean there is only so many different ways you can do it, but you have got to keep doing them and she certainly did a lot of them.


A sample lactate set; a Wednesday and Saturday type of thing.  Give her 6:00 rest between rounds.  And those are the… you know, as I said Wednesday, Friday were the days that I typically put some stroke work or IM work in for her.  Not that I was going to try and make her 200 backstroker or anything like that, but I think it is important to train the other strokes.


Here are some miscellaneous sets or swims we did during the course of the year.  And I thought each of them were sort of milestones for her.  And I could go back and look up the dates, but I think each of them sort of told a story.


I had them go 5,000 for time, one time—the only time during the year we had them do it.  50:10 is pretty good for a girl, I think; I do not know—I do not usually girls that can go that fast.  But even more important than that, I gave them 5,000 for time and we have another distance swimmer who is little faster than Katie and he pushed-off in front of her.  And he thought he was doing 5,000 and just started sort of plodding along.  Well, that went on for about 400 yards, Katie said enough of this, passed him, went in front of him.  And he sat there, right on her feet, for about another 3,000 yards.


And I thought to myself if I were Katie I would stop and turn around and slug this guy.  I mean, he sat right on her feet; and to make things worse, he is about 5’6” and about 130 pounds, dripping wet, so she could have taken him.  He just sat there, right on… if he was not touching her feet, he was right there.  And I could not believe he was doing it, and so on and so forth.


Well at the 3,000 mark, some other people who were in the lane got out, because they were assigned the 3,000 swim, and he pulled-up right next to her.  So they swam, two in the lane, side-by-side, from 3,000 to 4,000 to 4,200 to 4,300 to 4,400, at which point Katie the hammer down and came home in like 5:48 or something like that.  You know, dropped him like a bug.  And I never cheered so much for somebody during a set as I did on that one.  But that was the… and I asked her afterwards, I said why did you decide to go then or why did you not turn around and slug him—maybe it was the same question.  And she said, “Well I thought he was going to sprint the last 500, so I sprinted the last 600.”  And that is just who she is.  So that was early in the Fall, and that was the indicator there.


Another time, later in the year, we went 4×1500.  I have no idea where the idea came from on this one.  And I told the kids, I said, “Go 3 cruise and 1 race.”  And all of them wanted to know what does cruise mean.  I said, “I tell you cruise all the time; 3 cruise, 1 race.”  And they looked at me, they were not very happy about it.  They swam the first one and they came in; I think one of them said that was kind of boring.  Okay, I got over it.  And then they came in after the second one, and they said I sort of like this; I can get ready and get up and go on the last one.  So they did the third one, and then on fourth one Katie went out and dropped 14:39 on it, which is a pretty good swim.  And the other thing it did for me is up until then I have been using 59 as her base pace for all of our training sets.  And I figured that if she could drop off 14:39 at the end of that, I could probably drop down to 58.5.  So I started using 58.5 for all of her color work after that, so I thought that was real important.


12×200 on 3:00.  Pick 8 of the 12, up to you, whichever 8 you want, and I gave her goal time of under 1:53.  I am sure I had a rationale at some point where 1:53 came from—I do not remember what it was, I gave everybody in the group sort of different goal times.  And those were the eight that Katie went.  And they took real pride in racing the ones.  Nobody wanted to come in and do one that they had to do over again, because of course the threat was if they tried really hard on one and they went 1:53.5 then it was not going to count.  So they really got on the good 200s and they went really slowly on the easy ones, and that was fine.  And I do not remember; she went 2 fast, 1 easy, 3 fast, 1 easy, or something like that.  I stole this from Harvey Humphries down at the University of Georgia; just another way of doing some good work, I thought.  You know, let them pick 8 out of 12, I was not going to tell him which.


Six rounds of: 300 descend plus 100 easy on 5:00.  The reason I have got that one up there, believe it or not—I think most of you believe it—at the beginning of the year, Katie did not have a lot of feel for her descend work or control of her paces.  We had done some descend work prior to that where she had gone 3:15, 3:12, 3:10, 3:12, 3:18; you know, it was not a good descend.  And I thought that was the first time she really showed nice control over the work she was doing.  It was good work too; I mean those times for 300m for long course for girls is pretty good.  I think it was the control that she showed on it more than the actual times that I thought were important.


And then maybe a little bit more typical: we would go 10×300 on 3:30, 4 of them between white and pink, which are the 3:02-2:59; 3 of them between 2:59-2:52, 2 of them between 2:52-2:50 and 1 of them under 2:50.  And that is just typical of the work that we were doing, that she is doing.  And we do it every week; there is no magic to it in a lot of ways.  We do that for 8 or 12 weeks in a row, we rest for 3 days and we go swim; we go back to the pool, we do a little bit of aerobics endurance for 3 or 5 days, we rest for 3 days and we go back and swim.  And that seemed to work for most of the year—I will talk about that.


Real quick on the dryland.  I said we started out with group dryland: Katie doing two sessions a week group dryland.  I threw-in a third session for her working one-on-one with a personal trainer—for lack of a better word.  Towards the end of the year, we started her having to do two sessions individual, and one session with the group.  It is real important to her to be part of the group: she enjoys it, they feed off of each other; she is a little bit more serious than some of the others in group dryland but that is an issue with them not hers.


Pretty basic, I hate to tell you it is not rocket science on this.  Shoulders stability, core strength; a little bit of strength work, not a lot.  Probably the biggest key for Katie in a lot of ways is just learning how to use her body, some of the coordination, some of the multifaceted movements that she needed to learn how to do.


We will do more as we move forward on this.  We did not even start any dryland until December.  That was not by design, that was by the fact that I started with the program in early October.  They really did not have a dryland program; occasionally they threw med-balls around the pool deck, or something, and I did not think that was very safe.  They used to run a little bit, until the people that own our pool told us we could not run around campus because the scantily-clad girls were distracting the prep-school boys—I kid you not.  So we did not really get going on the dryland until December, and this year we will start it up from the very beginning.


Some of the technical aspects we worked on with Katie during the year.  She has got that little gallop stroke.  And I obviously had seen her swim before I started coaching her, and she had that hitch in her stroke and you immediately want to change it.  I either was smart enough or could not figure out a good way to change it, so we sort of left it alone.  I listened to Yuri explain it a little bit a few times; I am still not completely sure I understand it.  She breathes to her right almost exclusively; occasionally she will breathe to her left but not very often.  And we will probably just continue with that little bit of a gallop stroke.


Her turns and underwaters was something we did work on.  And I have got a whole section of presentation later, that if our internet connection is working, I can sort of show you last year’s 800 turns and this year either 400 or 1500 turns, and you can notice the difference.


Kicking: I would constantly remind her to keep high legs.  I know yesterday, Matt Kredich said it was blasphemy when he said: pull with the top hand coming out of the walls.  Well while it might be blasphemous to some of you, I want her legs out of the water.  I know that your gut tells you lots of time you are going to get more propulsion having the legs down there doing a lot of work, but for every bit of work they do, I think it creates too much drag.  She is better off having the legs up, keep them up out of the water.  Sure she does not get as much propulsion out of them, but she is not creating the drag when she is way down low with them.  So reminded her to keep her legs high.


Tempo.  I probably did more work on this than she did.  And by that I mean I was checking her tempo more often during practice to see where she was than I was making her aware of.  Part of the reason that I was doing it so much is the first time I saw Jon Urbanchek, while I was coaching Katie, I think we were at Short Course Nationals.  And he just said, “How is Katie?” And I said, I think she is okay.  And she started swimming, and he said, “1.4 on the tempo, she’s fine.”  And that is something that Jon had learned with her, and I am going to touch a bit base on that a little bit later.  But that 1.36-1.4 range is where she is most comfortable; it is her natural tempo.  If we can get her to swim that way, we are great.


She gets a lot of power through her hips.  If you look at any video, you can see that.  And I have here soft right-hand catch; that is not a good thing—that is one of the bad thing that she does.  Left hand gets in there: boom, you think it is grabbing on to a cable.  The right hand kind of sits there for a little bit sometimes.  I mean, when she gets tired or is not paying attention, maybe when she gets a bored, she has got a real soft right-hand catch.  So I would like to get that right hand to catch a little bit firmer up there.  So that is some of the technical things we worked on over the course of the year.


If we get a chance I will show a video later; I stumbled across this picture, though.  If you can see, that is Katie on the right and she has got that left hand extended and the hips turned, and you cannot even tell but the legs are up.  That is kind of where I think of her swimming from, okay.  She has got that awesome, awesome catch there on that, and that is where she all of her power from on that.  The right hand is not quite so strong.  And I think it maybe we are there in her strokes, maybe not.  If you compare to the two people next to her, they just look weak; they are not generating any power from their hips or from their arm position or anything else.


Probably one of the best compliments she got was this past summer, Barcelona, she swam the 400 free.  And while she was swimming or right after she swam or something, Ricky Berens turned to somebody—and I do not remember who it was—and said, “Man, she swims like a dude.”  And yeah… at which point we said, “Yeah, going 3:59, she beats most dudes too.”  So I think that is a real compliment to her.


So here is the season.  I will be honest: I was making-up some of it as I went.  I said I did not start with her until after the season had got started.  She had just been back in the water in September; I came-in in October as her brand new coach.  Sat down and had some goal-setting discussions with her.  The discussions went sort of like this.  The whole group sit down, fill out an index card.  Put your name, put your phone number, where do you go to school—it did not mean anything to me but I had them write it anyway.  Something about yourself, your pet, your favorite sports team whatever else it is.  Turn it over and write on the back a Swimming goal.  I did not really define it any more than that.  I said turn it over and put your Swimming goal on the back.


So I collected all the cards, I am going through them and I am reading the goals.  And some of them are wonderful things like get better at my freestyle; other ones would be make my high school medley relay team.  I picked Katie’s up and I turned it over, and it said, “Break the World Record in the 800 free next summer.”  Okay.  Put that one aside and moved on to the next one.  I mean that was about the extent of our goal setting discussions.  She is very goal driven and she was very clear.  She had a couple of other things back there too that were beyond this summer that we will not get into, but you know break the world record in the 800 free next summer.  Okay, that was it; as simple as that.


A few weeks later I did sit down with her and we talked about… I do not want to say what else, like that was not enough, but we talked about what other opportunities might be available to her.  And that is where we came up with the… she wanted to swim on the relay in Barcelona, A relay, obviously the 800 free relay was most likely the one.  And we said let’s try and win three medals.  We did not say what events.  We had the 200, the 400, the 800, the 1500 and a relay, so I figured we had five shots at them or five possibilities.  We said let’s win three medals, we did not say gold, we did not say silver; three medals.  And she had written the world record.


So we went to work.  Swam 8-10 weeks with the weekly cycle we talked about.  Swam 8,000m on Sunday morning before Short Course Nationals.  Went down to Short Course Nationals in Texas, went 1:44, 4:34, 15:28, all lifetime best for her.  Check, done.  Went back to work, same thing, okay.


And then 8-12 weeks, same weekly cycle we talked about before, took three days rest for her high school championship—it is not really a State meet.  People told me going into this high school meet, they said: man it is pressure packed.  They said, you have never seen anything like the pressure and the intensity at this high school meet.  And I am thinking to myself, ‘I watched the 800 last summer in London, where the defending gold medalist from the home country, that was a little bit intense.’  Anyway, we rested for three days, she went to her high school, went 1:42 and 4:31.  Not so bad off of three days rest.  Check.


Went right back to work, got a chance to train a little bit of long course over her spring break.  Rolling up to the Mesa Grand Prix, I am looking for another check mark in the box.  1:56, 4:05, 8:20: we are looking good here.  Check.  Went right back to work again, starting to get ready for World Championship Trials.  I figured I would be really smart: instead of giving her 3 days rest, I would give her 7-10 days rest, okay.  Boy, was that wrong.


Dove in and we went 8:22 in the 800 and was lousy.  Way over-swam the front half of the race, her turns were poor, she let other people stay in the race when they had no business being in the race.  Dove in the next day and went 1:57 in her 200 free: not even as fast as she had been in the Mesa Grand Prix.  Earned an individual spot in both of those, I thought we were very fortunate in both cases.  Then she had an off day in the middle there.  Probably the first time I felt like I really need to coach Katie was then.  She had been poor the first couple of days; she sort of knew it.  We had gotten our World Championship berths; the people were saying that was all that was important.


But I grabbed her on her off day, and I said “Come on we are going to do a workout.”  And she was like what do you mean we are going to do a workout?  I said, “Well, you are off today, we did not rest that much for this meet, so we need to go do a workout.”  And what I was really doing was just trying to help her with her confidence, which is so important to all of them.  And do not kid yourself: the 10-year-olds, the 18-year-olds, the 28-year-olds all need it.  So then I started selling her on we did not rest for the World Championship Trials, it is okay that you swam slowly.  Somebody asked us how far we swam, I made up a number—I do not know whether that was how far we swam or not.  Next thing I know, I hear Rowdy [Gaines] reporting that we did 12,000 meters between sessions or something like that, and all was good.


Her 400 was not much better; 4:04, it was a little bit better.  And about this point, I am thinking about the World Championships, and I know that that is a hefty schedule there: the 200, the 400, the 800, the 1500 and a relay; prelims, semis, finals of the 200s, trials and finals of the 800 and the 1500.  And I did not think we had trained enough to tackle that whole schedule.  So I started planting the seed, or talking to myself, about you know what, maybe we should not swim the 1500 at World Championships.  So when you talk about not training to break the World Record in the 1500, we were not even going to swim it; at least, I was not even going to have her swim it.  It was early in the week; I knew swimming trials and finals would take a lot out of her; she had talked about setting the World Record in the 800 which was at the end of the week.  So I am thinking we are probably not going to swim the 1500.


She goes 15:47, fastest time in the world that year; she gets out of the water and says to me, “I can’t wait to swim that again at World Championships.”  I just kind of did not say anything.  Agonized about it for a little while overnight, thought about it, looked at the schedule.  Talked with some people that were invested in it, also—you know Frank Busch and Jack Roach and a couple of others—and we decided she would drop the 200 and swim the 1500.  I still had my reservations: I did not know whether we had trained enough, hard enough.  The idea of swimming a schedule like that: two 400s, two 1500s, an 800 free relay and two 800s at the end.  So that was the schedule that we were looking at to start with.


And I think the order of events played as much in to what we are going to drop as anything else.  She definitely wanted to swim the relay.  She got out of the 1500, she was the one who knew it was the fastest time in the world—she keeps track of those things, she is a student of the sport.  And we pulled it out.  We were still at 5,600m worth of racing to do.  But we did have a day off, and I thought that was important for her also.


Going into Barcelona, there were several things that I thought were key to her success.  Her race tempo: I knew we wanted to swim in that 1.38 range for her to be successful, at least in the 400 and in the 800 that is where we wanted to swim.  She needed to manage her legs; that is the terminology that we had started using and she seemed to understand it.  She still has a tendency to want to go out too fast, too hard, with her legs.  She needed to control her speed.  Her underwaters had become a weapon that we could use.  We started talking about winning the underwaters.  And maybe we will get a chance to see some of the races.


Manage the schedule, manage her energy and have some fun while she was there.  I thought all of those things were important to keep in mind.  Those of you that have not been on a World Championship team, or any of the Senior travel teams, you know I think it is real important for the kids to have fun.  Whatever, you know, energy that they can save is great, but they need to enjoy what they are doing at the same time.


So here is her race tempos from Barcelona.  You can see in the 400 she was at 1.35, which I thought was real good for her, okay.  The 200, she was rushing it; I do not know whether we will ever get her to be natural at that speed.  The 1500 I think, obviously, was real good.  If you look at similar numbers for Sun Yang and for Connor [Jaeger] and somebody else—and Russell Mark pulls all this together, thank you Russell—you know, you see that same type of thing as they move down in distance.  Obviously, their tempo goes up, or down—whichever way you would like to think about tempo.  But having worked with her over the course of the year, that 400 at 1.35/1.36 is a real good place for her to swim.  And I am convinced that the 400 there was her best swim.  It was the one that was not a World Record, but I think it was by far her best swim there.  When we compare a couple of things later, you can see why I think the 800 was not quite so good.


(You probably cannot, or maybe you can, read that.)  The top one is her 400 from Barcelona; the bottom one is her 400 from Olympic Trials last year.  And they are swum both at about the same tempo, in that 1.35 range that I like to see her at.  The best thing about the 400 swim in Barcelona are the last three 100s, for her especially: 00.6, 00.5, 00.5.  And that is a control and a managing of a race that we had not seen before, at least I had not seen from her before—there was always more than an element of fly-and-die than she exhibited there.  So that was a good thing.  The tempo is great; that is a range that I love to see her swim at.  I think we can swim at that same tempo up to an 800; I do not know that we can at the 1500, but I am not really concerned about that at this point.


Let us see here if we can talk about her underwaters.  So here are a couple of her underwaters from last year in London.  You can see her 800 underwaters from London, 1-2 weak kicks off each wall; it is just kind of a forced one and a weak second one at best.  And they had really good underwater over there in London.  So there is her leading; one weak kick and then off she goes.  And that is really about all she exhibited throughout the race: one weak kick and off she goes.  And those were her 800s in London. (I guess this is showing the same one over and over.)  And they were all about like that.  Here is a later one in the race: one weak kick and off she goes.  And that was where she was then.


And you know, you say, what did you do to work on them?  Well, we talked about them some in practice; not maybe as much as I would like to even, but we certainly talked about them some.  But I think the dryland is what got her to do better underwaters.  I distinctly remember a day in March or April, we were doing 75 build, 25 race—in probably the terminology I use, maybe it was 75 cruise 25 fast, I do not know.  And all of a sudden, she is coming off that last wall and going 6-8 kicks underwater.  And I would love to know exactly why it came there, but I think it was the dryland as much as anything else and her just getting stronger and learning how to use her body.


I am going to try this next video; the next video is from the Mesa Grand Prix.  For those of you who were there, she was racing Missy [Franklin] in the 200 free.  She went into the third turn at Missy’s feet, and for the first time in a race environment, I saw her use it as a real weapon.  She took a good four or five kicks coming off the last wall, picked-up maybe a third of a body-length on Missy, maybe as much as half of body-length.  And that was the first time I saw in a race environment where she was using it as a weapon.


And then (do I chance at here Steve?); give it a shot. (Whoops, wrong shot.)  Here we go.  It is a 400 video, and she is just good on her walls.  And she is consistently good on her walls.  And I said if I had a lot of time to kill, I would let the 1500 run; if I only had a little time to kill, I would let the 400 run.  And neither one is coming here.  But she does a… I will let you be the judge.  I thought this was her best swim and that is the other reason I have no problem letting it run.  I clearly thought her 400 free was her best swim.  She managed her legs nicely going out; her tempo was exactly where we wanted it to be.  She is 1, 2, 3, she is 4; you will figure out pretty quickly which one she is: she is the one that is way ahead.


But pretty much coming off of each turn, she has got 3 or 4 really good kicks, okay.  She actually goes into the first one, I guess, even.  But she is the one who is underwater further, faster than everybody else.  And that is the terminology that we use day-in and day-out: further, faster—further, faster.  Does not do any good to just be further, okay; further, faster.


There is a real good shot of her underwater; it is what I was talking about earlier.  She always breathes to her right.  She turns her right hand in a little bit, her thumb down a little bit more than I would like her to.  But here we come in to another wall, and she is going to be a good three or four kicks again.  She is just better off of her walls by far than she was just a year ago in London.  I said from here on out, she is 1:00.6, 1:00.5, 1:00.5 coming home, swimming at her best.


Breathing to her right the whole way; over the course of the whole week, the only time she would breathe into her left was when she wanted to look around and make sure that there was not somebody next to her, which there frequently was not.  Another good three or four kicks off of the wall.  And it is just something that made her clearly better than she was a year ago.  If you do not mind I will let it run for another two minutes, because this is the one I enjoy watching in some ways.


She never dragged the leg, she did not over-use them up front; you know, she was just good.  This was her first race of the meet; that was when she was freshest.  00.6, 00.5, 00.5; the stroke count was good all the way through.


[inaudible audience question]


I wish I could tell you specifically.  We convinced her, I think.  I do not know if that was what you said or not—Rowdy is up here chirping in my ear.  But she just decided to make it important.  I do not think she was capable of doing it before; I do not think physically… she was either not strong enough or just did not enough body control, body awareness.  As a 15 year old girl who was growing like a weed, after she had done a good six months worth of dryland where she valued them but she was capable of doing it too.


[audience member]:  What did you ask her to do?


[Gemmell]:  If I said anything, it was you know four kicks off of each wall; I mean, just the simple stuff.  She did it on her own.  And, you know, she is like the second or third kid that I have been coaching that I have seen sort of gets it one day.  And I do not know why; I wish I did.  You tell them, you tell them, you tell them, you tell them, you tell them; and then it sometimes you will see them… you know, you cannot just sit around and wait for that.  But they value it, I think is the maybe the most important thing to it.


[audience member]:  Did you ask her?  I mean, maybe she got it from somebody?


[Gemmell]:  We started talking about it more frequently and more frequently.  And when I saw her use it in Mesa as a weapon, we started talking about using it as a weapon.  We started talking about: you have got a better… it was the last wall that we would frequently talk about. It was you have got a better last wall than anybody else has.  You know, use it; if you need it, use it.  She did not need it there, but it was that type of thinking and communicating that we always reinforced.


And then… I will not make you watch the whole thing, but if you watch the end of her 1500—they do not even have the whole 1500 up here, do not worry, they cut away for commercial or something.  She goes into her last wall—and I could show her last two walls but especially her last wall, if this will load here.  Okay, there is the 1400 turn there, and that is not a bad turn.  But she comes into this last wall and you would think that she was finishing a 200 free on it.  She throws five or six killer kicks in there that are just unbelievable.  Now she and Lotte [Friis] had swum side-by-side for 1300/1350 meters or some sort.  (But if you get it up… I am not going to blow it up for you because I will mess it up.)  But watch this last wall that she has.  Katie brought her legs in and goes into the last wall.  And there she is at the end of her 1500, okay.  That is not so bad.  Her last wall on her 1500: that was a pretty good wall.


Alright, I am going to move to some of the rest of this.  Her 800 free—you might not be able to read it there—her tempo in the 800 at the World Championships was up in the high-1.4s; she was tired.  I do not blame her, okay, but she was tired.  And if we have goal coming up for this next year, I think she can swim an 800 at the same tempo she swam her 400 at.  That does not mean I think she can go 7:59, but I think she can swim in it.  If you see now at the bottom, that is her tempo from the Olympics, and she was in that 1.3 range.  I think she was, I know she was, she was just tired by the time she swam the 800 at the end of Day 7 in Barcelona.


We had fun.  Her family was there; they came and visited at the hotel.  We did canoe races with Missy in the pool one night during warm-down.  Todd [Schmitz], who is a great influence, was there and was filming it.  All of the other federations and countries were sitting there, watching Missy and Katie doing kickboard kayak races for their warm down; I was sure the next day that they would all be trying it.


By the time we got to the 800, she was tired, she needed a break.  The prelim swim, I told her let’s go fast/easy by 50.  And if you pull-up her splits and look at it, that is exactly what she did: she was 30-point going one way, 31-high coming back the other way.  The conspiracy people probably thought that it was the current in the pool; I told her to do that.  Halfway through she switched it up and went at the other way.  I asked her why and she said, “Well, I did not want Lotte to know what I was doing.”  Who happened to be next to her in prelims.  But it was a win when she got out and said to me, she said, “That went by really fast and was fun.”  Okay, so we did not have a grind prelims 800 swim.


She was still tired by finals; she was not ready to race an 800.  So to just take a little bit of the pressure, the intensity, off, I said, “Let’s go 600 smooth, 200 race.”  And if you watch the swim, that is about how she swam it; she actually got a little impatient and went like 550 smooth, 250 race.  But you know just played some tricks with her by the end of the week—not tricks but just…—so she was tired.  And you know that was what we had to do with it to get to through the week.  Now the rest of them were tired too, believe me; it is a long, too long a week.


2014: looking ahead to what we are going to do in training this year.  We are going to increase the dryland as I have been talking about.  More core and try to increase her athleticism; I think that would definitely help her.  We talked about the right hand; I would like her to get more power out of the right-hand catch.  That is a technical thing that I would like to work with her on.  Kicking, kicking, kicking, kicking, kicking, kicking, kicking.  Every year I say I am going to do more kicking, every year I do a little bit more kicking and not as much as I wanted to.


We got down, last year we were using 58.5 for her T30 base or for her color base.  I would like to get down these 57.5.  And I cannot just arbitrarily do that; we cannot get in on Day 1 and say, alright, now so we are going to go this fast.  But that would be a goal for us.


Turns, we have talked about.  Starts; she has got a horrible start, okay—she really does.  The underwater is not bad, but the start itself is really poor and she values relays.  We got to the 800 relay over there and it was sort of like well, we’d better lead Katie off because she can’t do a relay start.  It was not quite that cut-and-dry but that was part of it.


We are going to train a little bit more long course.  I am not a believer that we need to train long course, you know, ten sessions a week or anything.  But we have gotten access to a 50m pool just down across the street from us, on occasion, so we will be able to use that.  And then that tempo range that I was talking about, I am convinced that she can swim an 800 in that range.  And I think she can be a little faster than 8:13 there.  So that is from a training aspect


What else are we going to do with her?  Open Water!  No she is not going to do Open Water; she hates Open Water.  I do not know that she has ever really tried it; I would love her to try it.  She is not going to do Open Water.  I may tease her about it, I may threaten her with it, but she is not going to do Open Water.


Goal setting is going to be key for Katie.  I told you that she is very goal-driven.  That first index card she gave me when I first started with her said break the World Record in the 800 free this summer.  And she had a couple of other thoughts on there, but I think really getting that together with her will drive her for the next couple of years.


We started a little bit on that already, I almost did it accidentally.  At the end of the World Championships, we had the team together and the coaches got to share some of their thoughts.  And I was just sharing my thoughts with the team and I said, “Well the thing that amazed me about this team is that somebody always steps-up and exceeds something that we have already done.”  And I said, “You know, somebody is going to exceed the triple that Ryan Lochte pulled off,” you know, last summer at Barcelona that one night.  I do not know who it was going to be.  I said somebody is going to exceed Missy’s performance over there, and somebody is going to exceed whatever else.  And I purposely did not mention Katie by name.  And then the meeting was breaking-up and she came over to me.  And I do not remember whether I said or she said, it was like well we are going to exceed that we did, we just do not know what it is yet.  So that was just sort of planting a seed on that one.  That is important to her.


200, 400, and 800, that is what we are going to swim.  When I was over there, one of the foreign journalist asked me you know: what other events was Katie going to be doing?  And what she is going to do, a 100 backstroke?  I mean, come on, she is going to swim the 200, 400 and the 800.  The 1500 is not an Olympic event; we are not going to focus on that.  She cannot get down and swim a 100 free, I do not think; at least not in the next 18 months.  She is going to swim the two, four and the eight.


I told you we are going to work on relay starts: it is important to her, give us a little bit more opportunity.  Just some new things we are going to do: she has never trained at altitude before.  We are going to [Olympic] Training Center and spend some time there.  She might be one of those kids that reacts great to that; she might be one of those kids that either is negative or no value whatsoever.  But this would be the year for us to try it.  So she has never done that before.


We are going to throw-in some new meets, some new events.  Events, I do not mean Swimming events, I mean like activities type of things, that she can do.  She is active in the community.  And when Dave Marsh was talking this morning about the Paralympics-type-of-thing, they have a wounded warrior program at one of the pools that we use, and those guys are impressive, I tell you.  We were in there one day going through something in practice, and the guy who came out was a double amputee.  Used both of his arms across the pool deck, and got to the side of the pool and flipped into the pool, and he started swimming and he had the best stroke in the pool.  He really did: a beautifully balanced stroke.  And he was just swimming away.  So we are going to start helping them out as part of our embracing the Paralympics and giving back to the community.


And those people are wonderful and it will be my challenge to keep it fun.  I have got an 8-year-old daughter.  And for those of us that need a little bit different perspective on life sometimes, you know see it through the eyes of an 8-year-old occasionally and you will get a whole new appreciation for what you can do to make things fun.


I think that is all I have….  That is how I think of Katie.  And if you want to capture her strengths in one way or another: she is a happy kid, she is low maintenance, she tries her best, very respectful, she loves her teammates and she is very goal-driven.  And she said she set the goal up at the beginning of the year, 3 medals and 1 World Record; and she ended-up with 4 golds and 2 World Records.  So I would she had pretty successful season there.  And I will share with you next year, I hope, what goals we came up with for this year.


Any questions?  Yes?


[audience member]:  Can you describe a little bit what the three-day rest entailed?


[Gemmell]:  The three-day rest was Sunday we would go 8,000 meters, and Monday we would go 6,000, and Tuesday we would 4,000, and Wednesday we would travel and swim 2,000 meters when we got there.  It was not… boy, talk about a lack of science: there was not a lot of science you know behind that.  Tried to keep some speed work in there and some aerobic work.  But it was sort of… three days rest, it was like: okay we are leaving in three days; it is boom, boom, boom.




[audience member]:  What do you think the difference was between the trials and Barcelona?  What did you do differently to well here as opposed to….


[Gemmell]:  I think I gave her, for trials, just the wrong amount of rest.  I had been successful all year giving her three days, so I thought I would be really smart and give her six days; and it just messed her up.


We went back to work for a week.  Me using other resources: I called up Jon Urbanchek, who had her in London.  Poor Jon was in France at the time, but he sent me their three-week taper from last year in London.  It was pretty traditional, but it was sort of the base that we worked from and it really gave her the full rest, the right amount.  None of this if three days is good, six days is better type of thing; boy was that stupid—no it was not that bad.




[audience member]:  You mentioned that you increased dryland workouts for her.  Was there anything specifically that helped her with her walls?


[Gemmell]:  You know, I think some of it was getting stronger, just physically stronger.  I think more of it was learning how to use her body better.  We did a lot of exercises that were coordination-type things, multiple movements, and I think that just taught her how to use her body more effectively.  Actually recognizing she was not a great athlete when we started the dryland, she had a pretty fair amount of core strength; I was a little surprised that it was actually pretty good.  So I think that the strength might have increased some, but I think it was more of just gaining more awareness of her body and how to manipulate.


She had grown a lot in the last year.  She had grown from… whatever, 5’6” to 5’11”—I do not whether those numbers are right.  Her body had changed a lot and I think she just learned how to use it.



[audience member]:  If you look at the meets and that ten-week training cycle, to what degree did you change the focus?


[Gemmell]:  Not much, no.  You know, I did not have the luxury of sitting down and making a year plan; I got there in October and people said well, we are going to go to this meet and here is our training schedule and here are the days we can’t use the pool, and we had sort to had to fit my philosophy and program into that.  And every time we rested for three days, she got faster.  So maybe a little bit less on the aerobic endurance end as we got later, but not much—not much.  Then we went long course a little bit more frequently in the last cycle; we did have access to a little bit more long course then.


[audience member]:  You mentioned wanting to fix that right pull, given that the right pull is not as fast as the left. Fixing it might make her really, really fast, but she does not really need it.  But how would you go about that?


[Gemmell]:  How am I going to fix it?  I have no idea.  You know one of the things I did not talk about is anytime we try a new drill, she is a disaster.  I mean she is… she is horrible.  I mean I have almost drowned her a few times trying to do stuff.  Well, first of all she is really bad at it and so she gets really low in the water and then she starts laughing.  And I am thinking to myself you know Frank is not going to be happy if I drown Katie.  But she does not instinctively get it right away.  But she is stubborn, because when she does not get the drill the first time, she is the one who is still in the water 30 minutes after practice trying to figure it out.  So she ends-up getting it when the others still do not.


Alright?  All right; thank you everybody.



##### end #####

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Sponsorship & Partnerships

Official Sponsors and Partners of the American Swimming Coaches Association

Join Our Mailing List

Subscribe and get the latest Swimming Coach news