What’s What & Who’s Who: Swimming

Stroke it

Swimmers compete in four strokes. Freestyle is generally the fastest, followed by Butterfly or Backstroke, and Breaststroke is the slowest. The shortest event is 50 yards long, which only requires one lap up and down the pool. (The collegiate pool is 25 yards long as opposed to Olympic size, which is 50 meters.) The longest event requires 66 laps — nearly a mile of swimming.

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Polar bear club

Though the competition pool is kept at a “comfortable” temperature, the practice pool is significantly cooler, Craig Steen ’10 said. At a bracing 74 degrees Fahrenheit, the water is cold enough to make senior and men’s captain Colin Stalnecker ’08 swear when describing it. The upstairs pool also largely depends on open windows for ventilation, which becomes particularly clear during the winter months.

No boardshorts allowed

Besides the traditional Speedo and one-piece swimsuits, Yale also uses swimsuits specifically designed for competitive swimming. These special suits are made from a waterproof material inspired by sharkskin, utilizing miniscule scales that channel the water over the suit to minimize drag. Underwater, the suits appear silver from the reflection of trapped air bubbles. They also compress leg muscles, reducing energy wasted in vibrations after each stroke. Different strokes favor different suits: flutter-kicking strokes prefer leg-skins that extend to the ankles, but breaststrokers use Jammers that extend only to the knee.

The trophy’s got his name on it

The men’s and women’s teams share the same coaching staff and spend most practices divided into groups: not by gender but by whether they are sprint, middle distance or distance swimmers. Sometimes the coaches use underwater cameras to assess swimmers’ form, but they generally rely on their own perceptiveness. They know what they are doing, too: the Ivy League Women’s Championship trophy is named after head coach Frank Keefe.

Practice, practice, practice

The Yale swim team holds afternoon practices every weekday, supplemented by morning swimming and weight training sessions two or three days a week. While the NCAA limits mandatory pool practice to 20 hours per week, swimmers may decide to do extra practice.

Invest in some moisturizer

Spending a majority of your extracurricular time in a chlorine-filled pool takes its toll. Hair gets bleached and damaged, and the skin becomes dry and itchy. “I think the Yale pool is worse than most pools in that sense,” women’s captain Caroline Dowd ’08 said, noting that Yale keeps its chlorine levels especially high. Some chlorine remains even after showering, leading to “swimmer’s cologne.” “It’s the best kind of cologne,” Stalnecker said.

Hairless? Hardly

Swimmers often shave their arms and legs to increase their speed through the water. Not only does removing the hair reduce drag, but the absence of the first few layers of skin stripped off while shaving also makes a swimmer slide more easily through the water. Despite these advantages, however, both the men and women on the Yale team are forbidden to shave from October 1 until the final, championship meet of the season. For Yale swimmers, it becomes a psychological benefit. “Especially for girls,” said Dowd, “it just makes you happier.”

Swimmer’s math

The winner of a dual meet (a meet between two teams) is determined by tallying up the total number of points that each team has earned in the course of the day. The coaches from the two teams decide whether the meet will be “long order” or “short order,” which establishes how many events there will be. Up to four swimmers from each team can compete in an event, but only three of them can score.

The Meet

For the Yale team, which competes regionally as well as within the Ivy League, one of the most exciting events of the year is the Harvard-Yale-Princeton meet, which will be held at Yale this year. Stalnecker described the din of the crowd as an incredible experience. “Its like being in a compact football stadium,” he said. “But its louder.”

A hallowed history

Yale has always had one of the top 40 swim teams in the nation, and last year both the men’s and women’s teams placed third in the Ivy League, behind Princeton and Harvard. Though the glory days of Yale’s national swimming dominance are behind it, the men’s team maintains an uncommon position of honor in not only the history of swimming but also the history of sport. “Depending how you count it,” Stalnecker said, “Yale swimming is the most winning team in NCAA history,” with an astounding record of 1043 wins to 193 losses garnered over 108 years.

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