Or Popov, or Thorpe, or Torres, or [insert your favorite elite swimmer here].
Now that anyone can access video clips of elite swimmers in the middle of their winning races, there is a often a false assumption made when trying to extract technique ideas from those swims…
The stroke (in all it’s intricate details) that they are using at that world-record pace is not necessarily appropriate for the pace you are able to swim at. You may not be able to take their stroke at their speed and make it work properly at your speed- there is much involved with the physics of water and physiology here.
The stroke you see [Famous Swimmer] using at her world-record pace is not the same stroke she uses when swimming at your pace. The stroke (and I mean the whole choreography of SL, SR, timing, pattern) that she applies in that race is appropriate to that speed. When she slows down that stroke changes shape to adapt to the nature of the water moving around her- the tempo decreases, the stroke (that is already long) is lengthened out even more, there is more overlap, etc.
If you want to swim like [Famous Swimmer] at his world record pace, I recommend that you first learn to imitate his pattern and skill when he is swimming at your current pace. His pattern at your pace has the foundation within it that he then builds his speed upon- at slower speeds he demonstrates long stroke quality that he is able to maintain at higher tempos- and that is what you need to learn to do. This is the key to swimming faster- not simply more power (or more tempo), rather very deliberate technique with the right amount of power applied with precision.
Here’s a hint on how to do it: first develop the long stroke, then the train to hold that long stroke at higher tempos and for longer distances.
For any swimmer with a mastery mindset, every stroke, at any pace is deliberate. A highly-trained, technique-oriented swimmer takes each stroke at your pace just as deliberately as when she swims at her world-record pace. Learn to swim ‘slow’ like your favorite elite before you try to swim ‘fast’ like her. Master the skills required to swim as smoothly as she does at your speed and you’ll be at a serious advantage in adopting her style at higher speeds.
Now good luck finding video of your favorite one swimming slow! That isn’t cool enough to get much airing on Youtube, but it would be worth gold to learn from.