Infographic: Swimming’s Most Exciting Race, Re-Created In Pure Data

A detailed visualization of the 50-meter freestyle sprint reveals the race’s fascinating, hidden nuances.

Infographic: Swimming’s Most Exciting Race, Re-Created In Pure Data

To fully appreciate any race, you have to be there. That’s especially true in swimming’s 50-meter freestyle, where competitors can swap positions with just one or two good strokes. But could a graphic tell a story that even watching the race in person may not?


Click to enlarge.

In this infographic by Accept and Proceed for Planet K2, we’re taken back to a 50-meter freestyle event in Barcelona, 2003. Russia’s Alexander Popov beat Great Britain’s Mark Foster to win the race by 0.28 seconds. And even though I’ve never seen the race, and everything I know about swimming I’ve learned by watching the Summer Olympics once every four years (i.e., not much), I can see exactly what happened thanks to this clever visualization.

Those giant waves actually represent the place each racer is in (1st is on top). As you can see, Popov’s reaction time is lousy. He’s in second to last at the start. But he makes up time quickly, and by the middle of the race, everyone else is swimming in his wake.

The tiny chart in the bottom right–swimmer speed–fills in the gaps. Once Popov got going, he maintained the fastest consistent speed, while Foster clearly over-extended himself early. Other swimmers seem to go through a series of mini spurts through this short race (once in the middle, once in the end)–something I’d never have observed on TV.

Indeed, while swimming is among the most-televised Olympic events, complete with submerged slow-mo cameras to reveal the intricacies of stroke, the sheer data behind the event offers a far more nuanced view.

And it makes me wonder: Is the next, most exciting camera angle in sports not even a camera at all?

See it here.

[Hat tip: Visualizing]

About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company. He started, a simple way to give back every day.