This is how a virtual competition (with Sun Yang or any swimmer in the world you choose!) might work:
Pace is a simple calculation of Stroke Length (SL) x Tempo.
We will use SL because it is a universal measurement – it doesn’t matter what length pool you are in. SL is also known as Distance Per Stroke (DPS).
Sun Yang has a certain wingspan and we may consider this his genetic mechanical advantage. I can see there is some discrepancy on the internet as to what his actual wingspan is, but we may use 2.11 meters for our purposes.
You and I have different (likely much shorter) wingspans. Mine for instance is 1.80 meters. I’ll use myself as an example for comparison. Obviously, Sun Yang has a bit more wingspan to work with than I do. So how can I possibly compete with that?
Taking some more stats from his 2011 31 July WR 1500m swim in Beijing – he would begin his first stroke at around 5 meter mark (the flags) and then takes about 28 strokes per 45 meters (50 m – 5 m for pushoff). That translates to a SL of 1.61 meters per stroke.
Wingspan Conversion (WC) is the % of your wingspan you convert into SL.
WC% = SL / Wingspan (use meters or yards consistently)
So Sun Yang was using approximately 76% of his wingspan. So we would call this 76% WC.
And Sun Yang’s Tempo over a great portion of that race was around 0.95 – 0.98 seconds per stroke.
If I were to attempt to match his SL I would have to use 89% of my wingspan (my WC) to match him. That is equivalent to me swimming 11 SPL in a 25 m pool, which I can do when tuned up well, and at a fairly slow tempo. Yet, it is quite impractical from an energy standpoint for me to attempt to use that long of a stroke for more than extreme balance and streamline drilling – it requires far too much acceleration in each stroke if I were to attempt faster tempos. My shoulders would start to ache after a few laps, and I still would not be close to matching his tempo. I simply do not have the mechanical advantage to hold that SL at even moderate tempos within a reasonable amount of effort, even with the best training.
But let’s say I want to compete with Sun Yang factoring in my mechanical disadvantage compared to him.
The challenge then is this: I calculate my own 76% WC, which would be a SL of 1.36 m. (Translated into a 25m pool that is, for me, just under 14.7 SPL, with a 5m push-off). Then I need to set my Tempo to match his, which was 0.95 seconds per stroke. Then I need to get ready to do this for a full 1500m (simplifying the race to a steady pace the whole way). If I am successful my overall time will still be more than his, BUT mechanically-speaking I will have achieved the same level of stroke efficiency he used to set the WR.
Or in other words, instead of competing with him purely on time- I would compete against him by matching his variables he used to create his WR pace, with my own wingspan factored into the equation as a ‘handicap’, so-to-speak. Sun Yang had an incredibly efficient (and relative to his opponents, an incredibly relaxed) stroke which saved a great amount of energy, then he spent that saved energy on generating WR breaking speed. Essentially, this is the energy-conscientious strategy behind TI training.
In this way, anyone of us could create a virtual competition with any swimmer we wanted, anywhere in the world. Just get the data or pick the distance, match up the WC% for each swimmer, and set the Tempo to be held and go for it!
Now, this interest in the virtual competition has prompted me to work on developing an age-group handicap factor as well. With this proposed tool we can set up virtual races not just between humans and the gods, but any age human or god, male or female! So watch out young bucks- the mature swimmers among us will be able to prove their stuff definitively without waiting for you to catch up to prove you could still take them on at their age.
In case you are wondering more about how to use this WC% thing:
In my early stages of collecting and analyzing statistics from this perspective I am suggesting that swimmers would do good to aim to use a SL of between 55% and 75% WC. 55% is on the shorter sprint stroke side, and 75% on the distance stroke side. But this is more like picking gears on a bike – as pedaling conditions change so does the appropriate gearing. Even during a swimming race itself we might shift our ‘gears’ using a small range of SL x Tempo combinations to suit conditions and our energy management strategy. So don’t view it strictly as a linear scale expecting to stay fixed at one point. And of course, there are many other biological factors that might make one swimmer more efficient toward the high% range and some toward the mid% range. This just gives us a range to start evaluating our own stroke from to better dial in where our individual range should be (for each event).