Why is backstroke so appealing?

Elite Team
Written by: Elizabeth Byrnes at 13 March '15 0
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For swimmers there is the constant presence of the black line. Up and down following the black line. Not so for backstrokers.

They can gaze at the sun, the moon and the stars. Or the ever-decreasing circles of a velodrome in Berlin where luckily no backstroker – using the roof as a guide – went around and around at last year’s European Championships.

It is a graceful stroke. Long, smooth and languid. Other than the 50m sprint, there is little splash but instead an apparent gentle glide – deceptive, though, given the power and pace that is generated.

Emily Seebohm is one of the sky gazers. She became Australian champion over 100m aged just 14 in 2006 and went on to finish fourth in the World Championships the following year as well as being part of the winning 4x100m medley relay.

Now 22 and an Olympic and world silver medallist, Emily trains under the warmth and glare of the Brisbane sun.

She says: “I train outdoors so with me being a backstroker I don’t have the black line, I get to look into the sky.”

Why backstroke? “When I started swimming I didn’t have a favourite stroke, I did everything.

“It wasn’t until I got older that I started liking backstroke more because I could breathe all the time.

“I am always working on my skills as they are so important to your race and you can always improve.”

Emily’s sentiments are echoed by Denmark’s Mie Nielsen.

“We swim on our backs, not on our stomachs so we can breathe all the time.

“And when swimming you watch the ceiling, not the bottom of the pool.”

Swimming is in Mie’s blood. Father Benny won silver in the 200m butterfly at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul while her mother Lone Jensen, the first Danish woman to dip under the minute mark in the 100m freestyle, competed at the 1978 World Championships.

At the age of 13, Mie’s winning time at the 2010 Danish Championships was inside the cut for the European Championships but her tender years meant she was too young to compete in Budapest.

Undeterred, Mie followed junior success in 2011 with a gold, silver and two bronze medals at the European Short-Course Championships in the same year.

In 2014 she became a triple European champion – aged 17 – before rounding off the year with three relay medals – two of them gold – at the World Short-Course Championships in Doha.

It is a sharp trajectory and she says: “I just keep practicing, I listen to my coach and watch to see what other backstrokers do.”

Radoslaw Kawecki is a world long-course 200m silver medallist and short-course champion.

The Pole puts stress on his underwater skill where he is submerged for the permitted 15 metres.

For the 23-year-old, backstroke was an inevitability, not a choice.

“My swimming career started when I was in Grade 4 in primary school. From the very first days of training I knew that backstroke was my stroke.”



Written by:

Elizabeth Byrnes

Liz swam with a local club in Sheffield, England, as a child before retiring at the grand old age of 12. Her lifelong love of the water, combined with a passion for travel, has seen Liz plunge into pools across the world. Liz spent 12 years with the Press Association reporting on swimming and athletics at Olympic and World level but is now fulfilling a dream as a freelance writer. When not in or around the water, she can be found hiking, running and cycling.