Dr Ralph Richards, Co-ordinator of Australian Coaching Development, says that Kieren Perkins is a superbly talented and well conditioned athlete, with a great fighting spirit. That talent and fighting spirit helped the young Queenslander fight his way into the 1996 Australian Olympic Team in the 1500, the last event of the last day of the Olympic Trials in Sydney.
At the Olympics, Kieren once more cut it finevery
finewhen he qualified last into the final of the 1500. But against all expectations,
Kieren, in a display of courage and tenacity, swam from the outside lane
to a spectacular and historic Olympic victory, which, sad to relate, was
completely overlooked or ignored by the American media.
Says Richards, "John Carew has done a marvellous
job with Kieren over many yearsnot just one year, but many years. I think
Kieren has been with John for about ten years, which is good because there's
been a lot of continuity in the program.
"Now, having paid tribute to Kieren's great
fighting spirit, the reasons that I think Kieren Perkins is the great athlete
that he is, are several.
"First, there's a very fine aerobic component
in his ability to produce energy. This means that he uses his aerobic component
to support his anaerobic capabilities. If you look at Perkins' world record
splits for his 1500, the first 200 metres he was out in 1:52+. Great early
"Now an ordinary athlete going out that fast
would have a huge accumulation of lactic acid, but because Kieren has a
well-developed aerobic system, he's able to remove lactate as well as produce
it concurrently, which means he's able to generate a lot more early speed
without the detrimental effects of lactic acid build-up. His removal rate
Richards says that Perkins has a larger-than-normal
heart with very good stroke volume, and a very well-developed circulatory
system. "He probably has very good buffering capacity. But the ability
to remove lactate has to be associated with his long-term aerobic conditioning
that has gone hand in hand with the integrated approach of also doing anaerobic
Richards believes that a young swimmer should also
do speed work, and that it is a misconception that children do not accumulate
lactate. He says that children accumulate lactate, but they accumulate it
at a different level, and their removal rate is different.
Richards added that swimmers rely more heavily
on aerobic energy supply to sustain the demands of competition, no matter
what the time frame is. A 10-year-old or 11-year-old swimming a 100-metre
race, still uses more aerobic energy to complete that 100-metre race than
a 19- or 20-year-old. The younger swimmer gets rid of lactate more quickly
than an older swimmer.
"As that swimmer matures, the problem that
inhibits this ability is that they develop more muscle mass. Now you notice
that Kieren is very lean and very streamlined. Not having excessive muscle
mass is really a benefit to him.
"People will say: `Muscle mass is related
to strength.' It is, but only to a certain degree. Also, strength is a qualitative
thing as well as a quantitative thing, and Kieren does a lot of good work
that John gives him to develop the kind of muscle strength and power that
he needs over the period of time it takes him to swim the 1500.
"It's always a matter of balance and determining
the characteristics that need to be emphasized in a particular individual.
Some individuals will need more muscle mass, because of their explosive
capabilities. But, generally speaking, the rule of thumb is that you want
the highest power package in the most streamlined `design' possible."
Would Richards say that Kieren is a "freak
of nature" or an athlete trained to be somewhat ahead of his time?
"He's not a freak of nature. He's normal in
every respect; his personality and most of his physiology. No, I don't think
that Kieren is unique. I think there may be a lot more Kieren Perkins out
there, but they've never had the unique set of opportunities that Kieren
"Sometimes it's one coach that provides that
opportunity. Sometimes it's one continuum of philosophy, and if we train
enough of our coaches to understand these processes, it doesn't matter whether
it's a single person who does it, or many people who influence a swimmer
during a career. But the philosophy must be consistent.
"I will say that Kieren has had the tremendous
advantage of having a coach who has a very good model of what he wants to
achieve in terms of technique, range of motion, energy supply qualities
in his athlete, and he has worked very hard in taking a long-term approach
to achieve those results."
Dr Ralph Richards says, "If we think back
when Kieren emerged on the scene (which was at the Auckland Commonwealth
Games in 1990, where he finished second and broke 15 minutes for the first
time), he was essentially a junior. I think he was only fifteen or sixteen
years old. That effort was already the result of several years of developmental
work that John had put into him.
"This is the kind of developmental work that
we are trying to show all our coaches, and say `Hey, this is the process
that you should be going through, and, then if you happen to find someone
who has the higher degree of talent that Kieren has, you can pull all those
elements together, and you will have a champion athlete. But, if you have
someone who has very average characteristics, you can still improve their
performance level dramatically.'"
There are quite a few great distance swimmers who
started off as backstrokers. Is this a coincidence, or is there some connection
with developing a strong shoulder girdle?
"I worked with Daniel Kowalski when he was
an age grouper, and, at that time, we thought he would become a 200 backstroker.
I have some really good underwater photographs of Daniel as a 12-year-old
"My theory on this might be a little bit radical.
Talking from a personal perspective, back in the late 80s I was the first
national event coach for Australia, and many top backstrokers were under
my tutelage. I think that one of the things we overlook when we're developing
swimmers to swim a particular stroke is that different muscle groups are
used, and they're used in different sequences."
Richards says that freestyle, being the fastest
performance stroke, tends to put an emphasis on the anterior muscles, and
this, in turn, may develop a muscle imbalance.
"For this reason, backstroke is a very good complementary exercise to freestyle. You can develop muscle balance by doing other things. We encourage our coaches to do diagnostic work, and work with physiotherapists so that we have well-conditioned, well-rounded muscle balance, in both the anterior and posterior `compartments.' It doesn't necessarily have to be done by swimming backstroke. You can do it in the gym. You can do it a lot of different ways."
As SWIMNEWS goes to print, word reaches us from Australia that John Carew,
Kieren Perkins' coach, has decided to postpone Kieren's return to competition.
"He's put on more than 15 kilograms and was too overweight to compete
this year," Carew said.
Perkins has resumed training in Brisbane and is aiming at next January's World Championships in Perth.