Me and the coach – Mie Nielsen, how a backstroker is made

Elite Team
Written by: Elizabeth Byrnes at 19 July '16 0
You are reading: Me and the coach – Mie Nielsen, how a backstroker is made

Mie Nielsen was born with swimming in her blood.

Her father Benny won silver in the 200m butterfly at the 1988 Olympics while her mother Lone Jensen competed at the World Championships in 1978.

Not surprisingly, Mie inherited a love of the water and she soon showed potential, swimming under the watchful eye of Eyleifur Johannesson at Aalborg from the age of 11.

At that time the youngster was competing in all freestyle distances from 50m to 1500m as well as the individual medley at both 200m and 400m.

Despite not specialising in backstroke she became Danish champion over 100m in 2010 and a year later she competed at the World Championships in Shanghai, narrowly missing the semis in the 50m backstroke. After this she turned her focus to freestyle and backstroke.

In the past 12 months alone, Mie has clinched 100m backstroke bronze at the 2015 World Championships in Kazan as well as 100m gold and dash silver at the European Championships in London. She is also a valuable member of the Danish relay teams.

It was all a natural progression, says coach Eyleifur.

“She is built like a freestyle backstroker,” he says. “Her body length, shoulders, strong kicking. It comes most naturally to her, free and back: she just has really good rhythm from the start, her backstroke was really easy to build on, really natural technically.”

That word natural comes up again when asked how he would identify a swimmer with backstroke potential.

“How they lie in the water, are they good at using their legs and getting their arms working at the same time, do they have a good feeling for it, because it is a different test to the other strokes, you cannot see what you are doing,” he says.

“Usually you see it really early with kids, kids that have a natural feeling for it, they do it effortlessly, swimming backstroke without any problem. Smooth, lying high in the water, easy kicking.”

LEN European Championships London 2016 Gian Mattia D'Alberto / lapresse - In this picture: Mie Nielsen (Den)


“It is more like the feel of the water, you don’t teach it but you think you can come higher in the water with more force and more speed, some people just float better than others.

“One person is better at using their legs than others. I don’t think you can go from being a low position to really high, I think it is natural.


“The head position is super still and in a natural position, I think some swimmers make the mistake of trying to lift the chin up or chin down. For me the head should be natural, it should not be moved back or forth.

“I think when you lift your chin up your feet sink and when you move your chin down your head rolls over and shoulders sink. Be natural, be straight, keep your body line straight.”


“With Mie she is more of a power backstroker. We are trying to lower her frequency and make her technique more efficient, so we have a little lower frequency stroke for stroke and she is getting better at that part so she can get faster on the second 50.

“It is this balance: you cannot overdo the first 50 and spin your arms around – you have to get this balance between power and frequency so you can keep it going for one minute.

“Technique is first and then you find the right frequency whether it is 50, 100 or 200.”


“Little finger first in the water, keep fingers down by your hips, don’t kick too wide, kick small and fast, a lot of people make the mistake when they have too many wide kicks and make too much resistance. Kicking in backstroke is usual faster than in freestyle. You have to be a good kicker.

“Have a straight arm on the recovery phase and be relaxed at the same time.

“With the pull phase, you catch with your finger and the arm is how you would put it around a friend’s shoulder.

“Some people kick really hard and way too wide instead of small and fast. Learn to kick straight down, it stabilises you in the water.

“One arm drills, double arm strokes, different combinations, three to the right, three to the left, three doubles, everything you can think of.”


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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.