National Day of Student Protest
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Butterflop, or, why butterfly is the worst stroke

Mary Ward and Max Hall roast the black sheep of swim strokes


Butterfly – the swimming stroke – is bad. We are allowed to forget this for three of every four years, but since we’re all in Rio now and we can once again care about sports which don’t involve balls or alcohol sponsorship deals, it’s time to talk.

Incredibly, butterfly stroke was not invented by Tyson O’Brien from primary school so that he could go home from the swimming carnival with another blue ribbon. The bastard. The stroke was actually invented by a series of stupid 20th century men, including Australian Sydney Cavill, who started using the technique while experimenting with breaststroke.

At first the butterfly arm was used alongside a breaststroke kick. But then US competitors started to adopt the horizontal torso writhe which now accompanies the stroke.

Actual transcript from change room of a 1930’s Iowa public pool:

Man 1: “Gee, I like swimming breaststroke.”

Man 2: “Me too, and not just for the innuendo.” [the room guffaws]

Man 1: “But, you know what would make it better?”

Man 2: “What?”

Man 1: “If I could just thrust my dick at the pool as I did it.”[1]

The resulting stroke is the only way to make wearing a hat made out of the same material as a washing-up glove more embarrassing than it already is. Let’s face it, butterfly looks like the aquatic technique of a 22-year-old farm boy who decided it would be funny to swim in the dam after drinking a case of VB. People try to justify butterfly’s existence by saying it is the fastest stroke. But, this is only half-true. And, by half-true, we mean literally not true at all.

The underwater movement of butterfly is faster than any other stroke (although, it should be said, not as fast as a “fish kick”, which is essentially a butterfly kick attempted on one’s side by a few rogue competitors after hitting a tumble turn – resulting in disqualification if you turn entirely onto your stomach in backstroke, or entirely onto your back in any other event), but you lose speed throwing your body out of the water. The world record time for the men’s 50m butterfly is 22.43 seconds, 1.52 seconds slower than the world record for freestyle. For the women’s event, the difference in time is 0.7 seconds.

While butterfly might be quick if you have gills, there’s a reason why no one’s ever thought to work on their keyhole-arm technique while trying to escape a shark attack: it’s not very fast.

Put simply, there is no reason for the farce of competitive butterfly swimming to continue. No one has ever used butterfly to rescue their drowning child or cross to the other side of your local pool on a 40 degree day.

It is the only stroke that can be said to be a wholly human invention. While breaststroke originated when Stone Age men mimicked the movements of frogs and “freestyle” (front crawl) and backstroke have been observed in nature for centuries, the same cannot be said for this piss poor method of aquatic passage.

No animal does butterfly. You can’t just name a stroke after an animal to try to make it seem like a natural method of water passage. Least of all one that doesn’t. Even. Fucking. Swim. In fact, if you so much as wet a butterfly’s wing, it is incapacitated forever.

So why are we still swimming butterfly? You can’t butterfly in budgie smugglers or a bikini without losing your swimmers and dignity in one grotesque heave of your tired shoulder muscles. A coincidence? No. Big Swimwear has to sell those ultra-tight and hi-tech suits with shark skin patterns and the easiest way to do so is promoting butterfly with your International Olympic Committee cronies. And has anyone ever stopped to consider the role which flippers manufacturers may play in this farce? Find us an under 10s coach who isn’t making their charges practice “dolphin kick” while wearing them.

In sum, butterfly is a capitalist ploy, and also cooked. Let’s end this madness, ban the stroke and make Phelps return his medals.

[1] Seriously. The swimming pool at Rio has been getting so much action, the diving pool’s turned green with envy.

Additional reporting by Izabella Antoniou

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