LA Current head coach David Marsh celebrated Halloween in style this weekend, despite being overseas in Budapest, Hungary for Season 2020 of the International Swimming League (ISL).
On Day 1 of Match 5, his team conceded the choice of stroke for the 50m skins elimination race on Day 2 to rivals the London Roar. This resulted in a restless night for the 61-year-old Miami native, who went to bed pondering what he could do to compete with London’s dominant breaststroke swimmer Alia Atkinson at the Duna Arena.
As the clocked ticked over to witching hour, Marsh awoke with a devilish plan: to maximize Anastasia Gorbenko’s chances using a maneuver previously unheard of at the professional level – the flipturn.
Scarier still, Gorbenko is normally an individual medley swimmer, although she has swum the 200m breaststroke in the past.
“She is not a natural 50m breaststroker by any means, she is more of a 200m breaststroker with a long stroke and a long kick,” Marsh explained.
“I spoke to her that night and said to meet me at the pool at 7:30 the next morning to work on her sprint speed. Then, lo and behold, I woke up at three in the morning and started thinking about swimming and how and what I could do.
“By far Anastasia’s weakest part is her turn, she has a very nice stroke, she is not super strong yet, but her pullouts are not refined, and her slowest part is her rotation on the wall.
“She’s tall and has long arms but has a background in rhythmic gymnastics so is very athletic and can adjust very quickly. I did not tell her what (I had planned) but told her to kick into the wall very lightly. I watched her once, then twice, and then moved it into her breaststroke, and pretty soon I thought it might work.”
Marsh had come up with the idea of redesigning her turn so that rather than using a traditional breaststroke maneuver, she would perform a flipturn where she would use a downward sweeping motion to initiate her flip via her last stroke.
Gorbenko and Marsh know each other well – he trains her in San Diego and is an adviser to her on the Israel national team – so when they met at the pool deck that morning, the 17-year-old Gorbenko was onboard with the idea.
“I coach her every day, so she trusts me and knows that I am looking out for her welfare and best interests and opportunities,” he said.
Marsh saw the fact that Gorbenko usually swims 200m breaststroke as an advantage, with the Israeli able to handle the physical requirements of three matches in quick succession better than her rivals.
Once Gorbenko had begun to get used to the turn, Marsh tasked his staff with checking the rules to ensure that the turn was legal and then with making sure the officials knew what was coming.
“When I got to the pool, I told her to put on her suit to make sure she could do it at full speed and do it legally,” Marsh said.
“Then I showed a video to the officials so that they had seen it, so they didn’t just see something wildly differently and didn’t disqualify her when she pushed off on her stomach.”
All Gorbenko needed to do was finish in the top four of the first race where the slowest four drop out before the second of three races, with the top two from that race reaching the swim-off.
When it came to crunch time, the trick turned into a quite a treat for the LA Current.
She tied for fourth with London’s Annie Lazor in the first race and then finished runner-up behind Atkinson in the second and third races to earn LA a valuable 18.5 points.
“Going into the skins, we didn’t have anyone that would have advanced, but I knew if she got through round one, she would be good because she is more of an endurance breaststroker. Fortunately, she tied for fourth and the rest is history,” Marsh said.
“I don’t know how we’ll use it, whether we use it in other strokes or races. But that is what is good with ISL. We have time in races to work on things and we have time in training to work on things.
We are trying to figure out how to get faster and how to carry it over to our Olympic preparation.”
Marsh’s middle-of-the-night brainwave is unlikely to be the last innovation during ISL Season 2020, especially as it helped put his team top of the overall ISL standings.
With the teams living and training alongside one another in a COVID-secure bubble in Budapest, there are more chances for coaches to share ideas and watch each other in action that at perhaps any time in the past.
Therefore, expect Marsh and his coaching rivals to leave Budapest with notebooks filled with new ideas to incorporate into their coaching plans for the months ahead.
“As a coach, even within your own team it is the best coaching clinic you can hope to go to,” Marsh said. “Then you can peak at what Melanie Marshall is doing working with her London kids or Johnny Skinner with the Cali Condors.
“Being here it is the center of the universe for a swimming coach and we are all learning in this environment.”
ABOUT THE ISL: The International Swimming League is a global professional swimming competition now in season 2 with teams in Europe (Italy-based Aqua Centurions, France-based Energy Standard, Hungary-based Iron, and London Roar), North America (Cali Condors, DC Trident, LA Current, NY Breakers and Toronto Titans), and Asia (Tokyo Frog Kings).
Season 2020 is taking place at the Duna Arena in Budapest, Hungary. Over 300 of the world’s best swimmers from over 50 countries are competing for over USD 6 million in prize money during the condensed, five-week event.
MATCH SCHEDULE: There will be 10 preliminary matches in total, with the top eight teams progressing to the semifinals. The top two teams from each semifinal will battle it out in the Grand Final on November 21 and 22. The full match schedule can be found here.
ISL SOCIAL: Keep up with all the latest ISL news by following @iswimleague on Instagram and Twitter and @internationalswimmingleague on Facebook and YouTube. Visit https://isl.global
WHERE TO WATCH: Links to the broadcasters showing the matches live can be found here.
DIGITAL PLATFORM: In countries that do not have a rights holder, the matches are being live streamed on the ISL digital platform ISLand, which can be accessed here.
RESULTS: The results, updated start lists and match standings can be accessed here.
VIRTUAL MIXED ZONE: Finally, 20 minutes after the end of each match, a virtual mixed zone will be held that can be accessed via this zoom link.